By Marsha Shuler
Capitol news bureau
August 24, 2012
State health officials warned Louisiana residents and visitors Wednesday to take precautions against the potentially deadly West Nile virus with the state on track to record its worst outbreak since 2006.
The mosquito-borne illness has already resulted in six deaths in Louisiana, only half-way through the peak season. The six deaths are among the 47 reported cases of people contracting the West Nile virus’ deadliest neuroinvasive disease. That’s out of 92 human West Nile infections reported to public health officials so far this year.
The deaths are the first reported in Louisiana in three years from the form of the disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. It’s spread from birds to mosquitoes to humans.
Most at risk are people over age 50 “who can’t fight infection,” state health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said.
“It’s a public health threat,” state public health chief J.T. Lane said. “It’s active. It’s presenting itself in every corner of the state and it’s not going to go away.”
Lane said the disease is preventable with “some simple steps people can take to prevent being bitten.”
The state health warning came as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday also reported three times the usual number of West Nile cases for this time of year in the U.S.
Nationally, there have been 41 deaths among 1,118 illnesses reported to the CDC. In an average year, fewer than 300 cases are reported this early, the agency reported.
“We are in the middle of one of the worst West Nile outbreaks ever seen in the United States,” said Dr. Lyle Peterson, a CDC official.
Texas has been hit particularly hard, with nearly half the reported cases in that state.
Most infections are reported in August and September.
“Now we are at the time of year where more people are at risk,” with more people spending time outdoors for football games and backyard cookouts, Lane said.
Guidry advised people to abide by what he called the four Ds:
- Get DEET — a mosquito repellent — and follow product instructions.
- Avoid the outdoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are out.
- Dress properly with long-sleeved shirts and pants.
- Drain any container of stagnant water, which is a mosquito breeding ground.
“We really want to get the word out. It’s the most West Nile we have seen by August,” Guidry said. “It’s important we take seriously our health.”
Guidry said people need to take precautions “so we make sure 2012 doesn’t become 2002,” when the state recorded 24 deaths, the most West Nile cases since the virus surfaced in the state.
West Nile was first reported in the U.S. in 1999 in New York and has spread over the rest of the country since then. It peaked in 2002 and 2003, when severe illnesses reached nearly 3,000 and deaths surpassed 260.
Hot spots through the years have included southeast Louisiana, central and southern California, and areas around Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix.
West Nile virus has several forms: the potentially deadly neuroinvasive disease; and a fever that causes flulike symptoms. So far this year there have been 47 cases of neuroinvasive disease and 26 cases of fever.
Thirty-nine of the neuroinvasive disease cases have involved people age 45 or older, according to a state Office of Public Health surveillance report. The incidence also is higher among males.
There also is what is known as “asymptomatic” cases in which infected people had the virus but did not feel ill. Nineteen such cases have been recorded this year.
The infection in those cases was discovered when people had a blood test for some other reason.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.