The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced two (2) new cases of West Nile virus this week, but no new deaths. While news of the Ebola virus has dominated national and local press in recent weeks, health care officials are urging Louisiana residents to pay close attention to West Nile virus and take the simple steps necessary to help prevent contracting it. Including the new cases from this week, there have been 130 cases of West Nile in Louisiana this year with six (6) of those resulting in death. Both of this week’s new cases presented with fever.
One (1) new case with fever was reported from Caddo Parish and one (1) new case with fever was reported from East Baton Rouge Parish.
“It seems that all we hear about in the news right now is Ebola virus, but while no one in Louisiana has caught that disease, we’ve had over a hundred people infected by West Nile in Louisiana. We must make sure that our families are protected from West Nile virus, especially members who may have weak immune systems because of an existing medical condition or age,” said DHH State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard.
Humans contract West Nile when they are bitten by mosquitoes infected with the virus. 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.
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 saw 34 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease in the state, which was down from 2002’s high of 204 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease.