Baton Rouge—The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) has confirmed the state's first West Nile Virus deaths in four years. Two people have died of neuroinvasive disease (NID), the most serious form of the virus, this year. These deaths are the state's first since 2008, when one person died of the disease. Since there has been a recent sharp increase in NID cases, DHH is now reporting total West Nile Virus deaths as part of its weekly surveillance report.
"West Nile Virus is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly," said Dr. Ratard DHH State Epidemiologist. "We know from the past 10 years of surveillance that this disease has reached every corner of the state, meaning people are at risk for West Nile regardless of whether there are cases and deaths in your parish. People should own their own health and take responsibility to make all the necessary precautions that protect you and your loved ones from mosquito bites."
This week, DHH is reporting 21 new West Nile Virus infections, bringing this year's total to 53. The number of NID cases sharply increased from 16 last week to 29 this week. This number is the highest experienced at this point in the West Nile Virus season since 2002, the state's outbreak year that had 204 NID cases and 24 deaths. This week's new infections include 13 cases of the more serious NID. The new NID cases were reported from Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, Natchitoches, Orleans, Rapides, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes. There were also new West Nile Fever (WNF) cases in Jefferson, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes and new asymptomatic cases in East Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee and Lincoln parishes. These cases are detailed parish by parish in DHH's weekly Louisiana Arbovirus Surveillance Reports Section of the DHH Website here.
Health officials characterize West Nile infections three ways: NID, WNF and asymptomatic. A NID illness is severe and typically results in a swelling of the brain or spinal cord. People with this illness are at risk of brain damage or death. WNF is less severe, with most people only suffering mild, flu-like symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals were never ill and were only discovered to have the West Nile virus in their blood when blood work was done for some other reason, such as blood donation.
This year, St. Tammany Parish has reported the most West Nile Virus infections with six NID, two WNF and one asymptomatic. East Baton Rouge Parish has reported five NID, two WNF and one asymptomatic, and Tangipahoa parish has three NID, two WNF and three asymptomatic.
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 NID. The elderly are at particular risk for severe disease and death from West Nile Virus, but all individuals should take precautions against mosquito bites.
Although mosquito control partners and abatement districts remain vigilant in keeping the population of infected mosquitos under control, everyone has a personal responsibility to prevent infection by avoiding mosquito bites.
Mosquito Population Control
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about DHH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.