Webster Parish has seen its first West Nile Virus infection in six years, according to Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, which joins 68 other cases across the state this year.
"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," DHH State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said. "We know from 10 years of surveillance that this disease is active in every corner of the state, and people are at risk of getting it regardless of whether cases or deaths occurred in their parishes."
Health officials characterize West Nile infections three ways: neuro-invasive disease (NID), West Nile Fever (WNF) and asymptomatic. NID is the most severe and typically results in a swelling of the brain or spinal cord. WNF is less severe, with most people only suffering mild, flu-like symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals exhibit no symptoms and are usually only discovered when blood work was done for some other reason, such as blood donation.
"Neuro-invasive is the process where it actually gets into your brain and into the layers that surround your brain and spinal cord," DHH Regional Medical Director Dr. Martha Whyte said. "It's a higher risk of complications and death than if you have the fever which more a flu-like illness. So it's just another step further in the process of the disease."
The Webster infection was of the NID form. It was not possible to determine if the Webster case resulted in death because DHH releases nothing specific about individual West Nile cases including in which parishes deaths occurred.
According to DHH, 37 of the 68 cases were NID, resulting in the highest total of West Nile NID infections in the state since 2006. Whyte said they are the easiest to catch because of the symptoms.
"It presents with things like confusion, nausea, vomiting, really bad headaches and difficulty with lights hurting your eyes, which is called photophobia," Whyte said. "The most that we hear from people is that they are very confused – for some reason with this virus, that's one of their primary complaints."
According to DHH, most people who contract West Nile virus will be asymptomatic, and only 10 percent will develop West Nile fever. Whyte said those 90 percent could gain a future advantage in fighting the disease.
"If you are asymptomatic it's nothing to worry about," she said. "It's actually a good thing because you do carry some protection from the virus. They're not sure how long that immunity is, but it will give you some protection."
Only about one percent of people who get West Nile will get the neuro-invasive disorder," Whyte continued. "For every one of the neuro-invasive, you have about nine or 10 that are fever, and you have about 90 that are asymptomatic."
According to Whyte, for each of the 37 infected with NID, as many as 99 cases go undiagnosed.
Of the small percentage that does develop NID, the elderly are particularly at risk, according to DHH. However, they urge individuals of every age to take precautions.
Wear a mosquito repellent containing DEET when outside. Use mixtures containing no more than 30 percent DEET on children and do not use insect repellents on children less than 2 months old. Always follow recommendations appearing on the label when using repellent.
Be especially vigilant when outside at dusk. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile are most active at that time.
Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing, but not under your clothes or on broken skin.
To apply on the face, spray repellent into hands and then rub on face.
Adults should always apply repellent to children.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors for long periods of time.
Avoid perfumes and colognes when outdoors for extended periods of time.
Check residences for tight-fitting windows and doors, and that all screens are free of holes.
Mosquito Population Control:
Eliminate standing water, which is where mosquitoes breed.
Dispose of tin cans, ceramic pots and other unnecessary containers that may have accumulated in yards. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools or buckets that could collect water.
Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
Clean clogged roof gutters yearly. They are often overlooked, but can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. Water gardens can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate.
Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used.
A swimming pool that is left untended for only a month can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Mosquitoes may even breed in water collected on swimming pool covers.
To learn more about DHH, visit www.dhh. louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow the DHH blog, Twitter account and Facebook.