State health department issues West Nile warning

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has received reports of West Nile virus present in more than 175 mosquito pools this year, a number much higher than last year at this time, when 13 pools tested positive.

The high number of positive cases in the pool samples indicates a greater risk of West Nile virus spreading to humans. While no human cases of West Nile Virus have been reported in Louisiana this year, LDH is urging protective measures against mosquito bites.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes and can cause illness in people and animals. While 80% of human cases are asymptomatic, many people can develop West Nile Fever. Symptoms of West Nile Fever, which is a flu-like illness, can include fever, headache, body aches, nausea or rashes.

A small percentage of people sickened by West Nile Virus can develop a severe infection called West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease or West Nile Encephalitis, which can result in hospitalization and death. Symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, muscle weakness, numbness, coma and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks and carry the risk of death or permanent brain damage.

While anyone is at risk of developing severe disease, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and those who are over 60 are at a greater risk. The number of West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease cases fluctuates each year due to many environmental factors. Previous case counts in Louisiana ranged between 4 and 204 cases each year.

“Now is the time to start protecting yourself from mosquito bites and eliminating mosquito breeding sites around your home,” said LDH State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. “We’re getting early warning signs from our Mosquito Abatement District samples across the state that West Nile Virus could result in higher case counts among humans this summer.”

LDH recommends using EPA-registered approved mosquito repellent and always following product label instructions. High-risk individuals should wear long sleeves and pants.

Reducing standing water where mosquitoes breed can help reduce the risk of West Nile. Dispose of containers that may collect water. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools, buckets, trash cans, children’s toys or anything that could collect water. Clogged gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.

A swimming pool left untended by a family for a little as a month can produce enough mosquitoes to generate neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers. 

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