The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) is asking caregivers in Louisiana to take extra precautions to protect their loved ones from contracting West Nile virus. Individuals with weakened immune systems are more likely to be impacted more severely by this virus that has impacted at least 128 individuals so far this year. This week, the Department is reporting one (1) death, and five new cases, three of which caused neuroinvasive disease.
Last week’s new infections include three neuroinvasive disease cases in Franklin (1), Lafourche (1), and St. Charles (1) parishes. There were two (2) new cases of West Nile fever; these cases were both in East Baton Rouge Parish and no new asymptomatic cases. The death reported this week occurred in DHH Region 3, which includes Assumption, St. James, St. John, St. Charles, Lafourche, Terrebonne and St. Mary parishes.
“News coverage has been dominated by concern for Eboa, but it is so important to remember that West Nile virus is a very present threat in Louisiana, especially for our loved ones who may have weak immune systems because of an existing medical condition or because of age,” said DHH State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. “Even a short time outside, particularly during dusk or dawn, may pose a risk of infection. It only takes one mosquito bite from an infected mosquito to cause serious medical complications for an individual. It can’t be repeated enough that long sleeves and pants, plus mosquito repellent are the best ways to fight the bite.”
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.