While much of the national media attention has been on the center of the West Nile outbreak in Texas, for good reason, Louisiana has also been seeing large increases in the mosquito-borne virus from week to week.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) reported 53 new human cases of West Nile virus (WNV) this week, approximate one-third of the total cases seen so far this year according to a Friday news release.
This brings the total number of cases to 145. This is the highest number of cases seen in the state in the past several years.
In addition, the DHH reported three more deaths from WNV, bringing the total fatalities this year to nine.
The large increases of WNV in the state and nationwide, has prompted DHH health officials to hold a press conference earlier to emphasize to the public the personal responsibility in protecting yourself and your family from this preventable disease.
DHH Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane said, “This is an easy illness to avoid – if you know you’ll be outside, take a few minutes to apply repellant. We want people to be especially mindful of this because we are just getting to the time of year when people are spending more time outside tailgating, going to football games and having cookouts. Be aware of West Nile, and do what you need to do to protect yourself.”
Of the 53 new cases reported this week, 31 were of the more serious neuroinvasive type.
West Nile virus was first detected in North America in 1999 in New York.
First discovered in Uganda in 1937, West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 80 percent of people (about 4 out of 5) who are infected with WNV will not show any symptoms at all.
Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected have symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
There is no specific treatment for WNV infection.
According to the DHH, the most active year for West Nile cases in Louisiana was 2002, when the state experienced 328 cases and 24 deaths.
Health officials in the Bayou State remind residents “Fight the Bite”:
• Local mosquito control partners and abatement districts remain vigilant in keeping the population of infected mosquitos under control, but everyone has a personal responsibility to avoid mosquito bites. Health officials recommend:
• 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.
• People should be especially vigilant if they are outside at dawn and dusk. The mosquitoes that carry West Nile are most active at that time. But, people should take precautions against mosquitoes if they are outside at any time of day.
• 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.
In addition, another effective way to prevent mosquito bites is to drain stagnant water from around homes and property to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and swarming:
• Dispose of tin cans, ceramic pots and other unnecessary containers that have accumulated on your property. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools or buckets 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.
• Clean clogged roof gutters yearly. 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.
• Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. An unattended swimming pool can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.
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