There is one reported case of a person contracting West Nile virus in East Baton Rouge Parish and two in Livingston Parish so far this year, as well as four more cases across the state, according to a Louisiana Department of Health report released this week.
While the Zika virus has received more attention of late, officials warn that West Nile still poses significant health risks and that residents should protect themselves. Indeed, four of the latest seven cases are considered serious, though none were fatal.
“This is fairly typical,” Louisiana Department of Health Communications Director Bob Johannessen said. “We usually begin seeing West Nile cases beginning in June, July and August. … Last year, we put out our first report in the beginning of August.”
The report is the first of the year, according to Johannessen, who said the department puts out the reports once they start seeing more than just a handful of cases across the state.
Department of Health entomologist Kyle Moppert said it is still something to be concerned about and to take protective measures against.
“It is a fact of our life,” Moppert said. “While we haven’t had Zika in Louisiana and everyone has been concerned about Zika, we have had West Nile.”
The seven latest West Nile cases in humans were reported in Bossier, East Baton Rouge, Morehouse, Ouachita and Rapides parishes. Livingston's two reported cases make it the only parish with more than one, according to the report.
These numbers likely understate the true total of West Nile cases, however, as roughly 80 percent of individuals with the virus don’t show symptoms, Moppert said. The majority of the other roughly 20 percent could have a fever and other symptoms like headaches, body aches and rashes but typically recover and might not see a doctor.
Less than 1 percent of those who contract West Nile show severe symptoms, according to the Center for Disease Control. These cases are typically the ones that could lead to permanent neurological impairment or death. Four of the seven cases in the report are in this group, categorized as neuro-invasive and serious.
Moppert said it's the southern house mosquito that most commonly infects people with the virus. Because they often enter homes at night, residents should check and repair their window and door screens to keep them out. When outside, residents should wear bug spray with DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus in it and reapply throughout the day, Moppert advised.
“This is south Louisiana. It’s going to be in the 90s all week long,” Moppert said. “No matter what repellent you pick, you have to reapply them. ... We will sweat them off.”
Removing breeding sites from homes and yards is also key, especially with consistent afternoon rain, Moppert added. Common places that water pools and attracts mosquitoes include clogged gutters, flower pots and saucers, buckets and pools.
“It doesn’t matter how great of a mosquito abatement department we have. If you’re raising them on your patio, and then you’re sitting there, you’re going to get devoured,” Moppert said.