Baton Rouge, La. - State health officials say a third person has died in Louisiana from the West Nile virus this year. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) say the death was reported in Rapides Parish, the same parish where one other person has died from the virus.
The health department is also confirming three new West Nile virus cases this week, bringing this year's total number of cases to 51. This week's new infections include two cases of the more serious neuroinvasive disease - one in Lafayette Parish and the other in Ouachita Parish.
West Nile is spread by mosquitoes infected with the virus. When people are bitten and infected with West Nile, the virus will affect them 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.