A second person this summer has died after being infected by the West Nile virus, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals’ weekly report.
The report also indicates that 14 more virus cases were identified, bringing this year’s total 29. Half of the new cases are of the most serious kind of West Nile virus, impacting the spinal cord and brain. This neuroinvasive form of the virus can lead to brain damage or even death. Two of these serious cases were in East Baton Rouge Parish, three in Caddo Parish and one each in Ascension and Livingston parishes.
Last year, there were 34 cases of this most serious neuroinvasive disease in Louisiana.
The report does not indicate in what parishes this year’s two fatal cases occurred.
The 14 new cases include five cases of West Nile fever as well as two people who didn’t develop any symptoms, according to DHH.
“The increased cases we are seeing this year are a firm reminder that West Nile Virus is a serious disease, and people need to be vigilant about protecting themselves,” Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist, said in a news release.
People contract West Nile virus through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most people who get the disease won’t get any symptoms, DHH says, but 10 to 20 percent of the victims will experience flu-like symptoms that develop anywhere from three days to two weeks after being bitten. A much smaller percentage of the victims develop the serious neuroinvasive form.
There is no vaccine for West Nile virus, and most people who get it recover on their own. Only about 2 percent of all West Nile infections are reported because the victims either don’t get symptoms or don’t go to the doctor when they do have a fever.
East Baton Rouge Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control had been seeing large numbers of mosquitoes with West Nile virus in July, indicating human cases weren’t far behind. The first human cases of West Nile infection were announced on July 8 when three people learned they had been infected after undergoing blood donation screenings or blood tests.
To help reduce the number of mosquitoes and the risk of infection, people are asked to empty any containers that can hold water, such as planters, trash cans or children’s toys. Clean roof gutters, make sure pools are clean and chlorinated and drill holes in the bottom of potential mosquito-breeding sites like outdoor recycling containers, DHH advises.
It’s also important to wear a mosquito repellent that contains DEET, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants outside and make sure any screen doors or windows are free from holes.