There are growing concerns about the sudden spike in West Nile virus cases across Louisiana and it is expected to get worse as mosquito populations continue to flourish.
The swatting, the bites, the itching - it is hard to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes that are calling much of the state "home." Now, the reality of a very threatening West Nile virus is here, as the state reports the first two deaths in four years and a sharp increase in the deadly form of the virus.
CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital infectious disease physician, Dr. Timothy Haman, says the climate is to blame. "The mild winter and the early spring that we've had this year along with a lot of heavy recent rain that has led to the increase in cases, because of the increase in the volume of mosquitoes," he said.
Dr. Haman says the statewide count of 53 West Nile virus infections is not surprising and that 80-90 percent of all cases never present any symptoms. "About 20 percent of cases that will have a flu-like illness with muscle aches, fever, that's usually self-limited and goes away on its own," said Dr. Haman.
Only a small number of infected people develop the neuroinvasive form of the disease, the kind that has claimed two lives in Louisiana this year and is threatening 13 others, including a person in Calcasieu Parish. "When you start to see neurological symptoms, when you start to notice sensitivity to light, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness or any sort of weakness or numbness in your extremities, then it's time to seek help," said Dr. Haman.
There is no actual medication to treat West Nile virus, so the success of the patient is dependent on what level they are diagnosed and when the supportive care can be implemented. "If they have breathing difficulty, placing them on a respirator, giving them fluids as necessary, feeding as necessary and then just watching and waiting," said Dr. Haman.
While we wait for cooler weather to reduce the mosquito population, you can take steps like getting rid of standing water at your home, cleaning swimming pools and applying repellent anytime you are outdoors.
Those most susceptible to contracting West Nile virus are people over age 50 and those with weakened immune systems.
Click here for more information on West Nile virus from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm