Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana health officials have confirmed three new cases of the West Nile virus. Despite the new cases, the numbers are still much lower than last year. The Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) also says 2013 is on track to have the lowest number of cases of the neuroinvasive disease, the most serious form of West Nile.
DHH says there have been 34 human cases of the West Nile virus so far this year. That includes two cases of neuroinvasive disease, with one case each from Livingston and Rapides parishes. The third case was reported in St. Martin Parish, affecting one person with West Nile fever.
People can contract West Nile after being bitten by mosquitoes infected with the virus. The virus can affect people on one of three ways. West Nile neuroinvasive disease is the most serious type, infecting the brain and spinal cord. Neuroinvasive disease can lead to death, paralysis and brain damage. The milder viral infection is West Nile fever, in which people experience flu-like symptoms. The majority of people who contract West Nile will be asymptomatic, which means they show no symptoms. These cases are typically detected through blood donations or in the course of other routine medical tests.
About 90 percent of all cases are asymptomatic, while about 10 percent will develop West Nile fever. Only a very small number of infected individuals will show the serious symptoms associated with the neuroinvasive disease. Residents who are 65 years old and older are at higher risk for complications, but everyone is at risk for infection.
Last year, Louisiana reported 160 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease in the state, which is down from 2002's high of 204 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease. DHH has been tracking West Nile virus for more than a decade, and statistics about its occurrence in Louisiana can be found in DHH's weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report, found on line at www.dhh.louisiana.gov/fightthebite.
This year, Ouachita Parish has reported nine cases of neuroinvasive disease, Caldwell, Lafayette and Rapides parishes each have two cases, and Calcasieu, Livingston and St. Tammany parishes each have one case of neuroinvasive disease. The state has reported one West Nile virus death so far this year.
Dr. Raoult Ratard, DHH State Epidemiologist, recommends that all citizens take these precautions to protect yourself:
- If you will be outside, you should wear a mosquito repellent containing DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than 2 months. CDC recommends that you always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label when using repellent.
- Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Do not apply under your clothes or on broken skin.
- To apply repellent to your face, spray on your hands and then rub on your face.
- Adults should always apply repellent to children.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors for long periods of time.
- Avoid perfumes and colognes when outdoors for extended periods of time.
- Make sure that your house has tight-fitting windows and doors, and that all screens are free of holes.
Protecting Your Home
- Reduce the mosquito population by eliminating standing water around your home, which is where mosquitoes breed.
- Dispose of tin cans, ceramic pots and other unnecessary containers that have accumulated on your property. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools, buckets, trash cans, children's toys or anything that could collect water.
- Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
- Check and clean roof gutters routinely. They are often overlooked, but can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
- Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate.