West Nile Update for Louisiana – August 2013

For Louisiana residents, the West Nile virus is a concern each year, and 2013 is no different.

West Nile is the most commonly transmitted disease from mosquitoes to humans, and symptoms include flu-like effects, fever, stiff neck and confusion. Only 1 in 5 people will actually show symptoms, but for those who do, the side effects can be severe. Elders and young children are most at risk for developing serious symptoms from the virus. Thankfully, wearing insect repellent, avoiding the hours of dusk and dawn and covering the skin when possible are effective preventative measures.

2013 Numbers for the West Nile Virus 

On a national level, West Nile cases have been reported in most states. Some states favor the virus in animals over humans, but Louisiana is one of the states that has had human activity. At the start of August 2013, there were seven new cases of West Nile reported in Louisiana, bringing the grand total to eight.

Out of the cases that have been reported, two were neuroinvasive, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals. The neuroinvasive disease affects the brain and spinal cord and can lead to death, brain damage or paralysis. It is the more severe disease. The DHH also reports four milder cases of  West Nile. These cases were recorded in St. Tammany and Lafayette Parishes, while the severe cases came from Calcasieu and Ouachita Parishes.

Additionally, there was an asymptomatic case reported in St. Tammany Parish, meaning that there were no symptoms present. This is the most common outcome for people who contract the disease, but it can be picked up in a routine blood test or medical test. There was also a case reported in Caldwell Parish – this was the first documented case in LA this year, confirmed on July 22.

How Does this Year Stack up to the Rest? 

Last year was a big one for Louisiana, with 160 cases of West Nile reported. The worst year was in 2002, with 204 cases reported. So far, this year has been slower, and the first recorded case of the virus didn’t occur until July. This is late in the season, but with the cooler spring months that we had, it’s suspected that mosquitoes didn’t start breeding until late in the season.

As we waited for cases to emerge at the start of the summer season, mosquitoes trapped in Baton Rouge were tested for West Nile and found to be positive. Since this evidence was found early on, mosquito truck crews in the area began spraying in May, focusing heavily on areas where the virus was found. Areas were sprayed about three times each week in the spring, so these proactive measures may have also played a role in the decrease of the virus. Some years, crews go out as early as March, but the cool spring gave us additional time.

The West Nile virus remains a threat each year, but it seems that this year is more hopeful than last. Still, the warm, humid weather and rains can linger in Louisiana throughout the fall and early winter, giving mosquitoes ample time to gain in numbers. If you remember from last year, cases were being reported long into the months of October and November.

Be Smart – We Still Have a Long Mosquito Season! 

The DHH recommends taking precautions to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites no matter what Parish you live in or the age that you are. Water is necessary for mosquito breeding, so it’s important that all residents do not harbor breeding areas from bird baths, rain barrels, swimming pools and the like. Standing water should be dumped out, screens should be tight fitting and without holes and leaky outside pipes and window air conditioners should be repaired. By working together, the residents of Baton Rouge can greatly decrease mosquito numbers and cases of West Nile.