NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The West Nile virus continues to infect and kill people in the worst year for the disease in Louisiana since 2002.
Everyone needs to keep fighting mosquitoes, state health officials say.
“We keep hearing comments like ‘West Nile is slowing down,’ but the real message is ‘West Nile is still a health threat,’” Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein said Friday. “It may be getting later in the year, but we are still seeing new cases, and we continue to have parishes report their first human cases of West Nile.
“If you can still be bitten by mosquitoes, you can still get West Nile.”
A news release says 139 people have come down with life-threatening neuroinvasive disease affecting the brain or spinal column, and at least 13 of them have died. That compares to 24 deaths and 204 cases of encephalitis or meningitis in 2002.
The 17 new cases reported Friday include five neuroinvasive cases, 11 of fever and one without symptoms, who had blood tested for donation.
Nationwide, doctors have reported 4,725 cases, 2,413 of them neuroinvasive, and 219 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one-third of the cases were in Texas, and nearly 70 percent of the cases were in eight states — Texas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, South Dakota, Michigan, and Oklahoma.
Louisiana’s total so far this year is 338. The number in 2002 was 328, but the totals aren’t a good comparison because far more people with mild disease or none at all are now being tested, Dr. Raoult Ratard, the state epidemiologist, says.
The state lab was the only one in Louisiana testing for the virus in 2002, and blood donors weren’t being tested, he said. Since the blood test is much cheaper now than in 2002 and is available at many labs, people with mild symptoms are getting tested, too, Ratard adds.
This year’s 338 cases include 43 people who had no symptoms and 156 with West Nile fever. The 2002 totals included 124 people with West Nile fever and none without symptoms.
“If you’re going to measure things, you never measure with a rubber band,” Ratard says. “You measure with a hard ruler. Neuroinvasive disease — that’s a hard ruler.”
That’s because people with symptoms such as high fever, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis will go to their doctor or an emergency room, and be hospitalized.
The percentage of deaths among patients with neuroinvasive diseases is down slightly from 2002 — 9.3 percent compared to 11.7 percent — but Ratard notes that’s just chance.
About 10 percent of all encephalitis and meningitis patients die, he says. “The only real treatment is to start early and prevent brain swelling.”
To keep mosquitoes away from your house, make sure that even small outdoor containers have drainage holes on the bottom, and pick up tin cans, bottle tops and anything else that could hold stagnant water, and clean roof gutters yearly.
To keep them out of homes, make sure that doors and windows fit tightly and have screens without holes.
To keep from getting bitten outdoors, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially at dawn and dusk, and use repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and clothes.