Baton Rouge—The Department of Health and Hospitals today confirms 53 new human cases of West Nile virus. These new cases mark 145 reported infections of West Nile in Louisiana so far in 2012, the highest number of cases the state has seen in the past several years. The state also confirmed three deaths from West Nile this week. So far in 2012, nine people have died from this disease.
State health officials urge the public to be vigilant in avoiding mosquito bites, which is how people contract West Nile virus. DHH Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane and State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry held a press conference earlier this week to emphasize that the increasing cases are a stern reminder that this virus is a real but preventable threat, and that people have a personal responsibility to protect themselves and their families.
"West Nile has been present in Louisiana every year since 2002, and if you can be bitten by a mosquito, you can get this disease," Lane said. "But, 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."
When people are 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.
Of the new West Nile cases reported this week, 31 have neuroinvasive disease, from Ascension (1), Bossier (2), Caddo (3), Calcasieu (2), Caldwell (1), East Baton Rouge (4), East Feliciana (1), Jefferson (3), Livingston (1), Natchitoches (1), Orleans (4), Ouachita (1), St. Bernard (1), St. Helena (1), St. Tammany (2) and Tangipahoa (3) parishes; 17 have West Nile Fever, from Bossier (1), East Baton Rouge (1), East Feliciana (2), Iberville (1), Jefferson (1), Livingston (3), Orleans (1), Ouachita (2), St. Tammany (1), Washington (1), Webster (1) and West Baton Rouge (2) parishes; and five have asymptomatic cases, one each from Ascension, Calcasieu, Iberia, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes.
DHH issues a weekly Arbovirus Surveillance Report that details cases detected thus far by parish, which is published here.
The most active year for West Nile cases in Louisiana was 2002, when the state experienced 328 cases and 24 deaths. For 10 years, state health officials have conducted robust surveillance year-round, which includes working with doctors, hospitals and health care providers around the state to track human cases and reminding people to be vigilant in avoiding mosquito bites.
"Older people and those who have weaker immune systems are most at risk for getting the most serious kind of West Nile infection, neuroinvasive disease, but people of every age should protect themselves," Guidry said. "We know from a decade of surveillance that this virus has been found in mosquitoes everywhere in our state, so people need to 'Fight the Bite.' If you can reduce your risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito, you can reduce your risk of getting West Nile."
Fight the Bite
Another effective way to prevent mosquito bites is to drain stagnant water from around homes and property to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and swarming:
"This week, we heard from several physicians that they were able to diagnose these new cases because their patients came to them concerned about West Nile and specifically asked to be tested," Lane said. "This is encouraging because it means the word is getting out, people are more aware of the West Nile threat and, we hope this means more people will start taking the necessary precautions. We don't want to see the kind of case numbers we saw in 2002 and 2003. We want people to Fight the Bite and avoid West Nile virus."
For more information on West Nile activity in Louisiana and prevention tips, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov/FighttheBite.
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.