West Nile Virus

In the wake of flooding, health officials are more concerned about the mosquito-borne West Nile virus than the Zika virus. 

The first positive sample of West Nile virus reported in Louisiana this year was found March 2 in a trap not far from Claiborne Elementary school in Baton Rouge.

While this potentially deadly virus has been found earlier in the year, most years it waits until May or later to surface, and last year it did not appear in Baton Rouge until August, said Randy Vaeth, interim director of East Baton Rouge Parish’s Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control office,

“It is quite early in the season right now,” said Vaeth.

Vaeth said LSU released the test results on Friday.

The positive sample means that Vaeth’s office is revving up its mosquito abatement work in a one-mile radius around where that mosquito larvae were discovered. Nighttime sprays have yet to start, though, because of still cool evenings and occasional high winds, and aerial sprays won’t occur until later in the year, he said.

It’s possible West Nile won’t show up again in samples for weeks, or it could spread fast, Vaeth said.

In any case, Vaeth is urging residents to start taking precautions to prevent mosquito bites: wearing insect repellent while outside for long periods of time, restricting time outside during the early morning and late evening hours when mosquitoes are most active, and wearing long sleeves if possible. He also advises dumping any containers with standing water around homes.

Last year, 20 Louisiana residents got sick from West Nile virus and two died. The most serious type is a neuroinvasive infection, which can lead to paralysis, brain damage and death.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.