Guarding against West Nile | 33 cases have been confirmed this year in Louisiana

Published 12:07 am Friday, August 3, 2012

While there have yet to be any incidences reported this year in Washington Parish, a total of 33 West Nile Virus cases, including 19 new cases, have been confirmed statewide by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. The agency has some warnings about the potential dangers of the virus, and local governments have measures in place to help control the mosquito population.

According to the DHH, West Nile infections fall into the categories of asymptomatic, West Nile Fever and neuroinvasive disease.

Of those infected with West Nile Virus, 90 percent will show no symptoms, said Dr. Raoult Ratard, DHH state epidemiologist. About 10 percent will develop a mild fever or a mild rash, along with flu-like symptoms, that will be gone within a few days, he said. The big concern, however, is that one in 100 will be neuroinvasive disease cases where the infected person develops encephalitis, he said.

During an encephalitis case, the virus enters a person’s brain, killing brain cells, Ratard said. While the infected person can make a full recovery if only a small number of brain cells are killed, “sometimes the virus will go and kill brain cells in another area that’s very important,” he said. Encephalitis can cause paralysis, problems with speech, weakened muscles or death, he said.

Thus, it is important that people stay on their guard against mosquito bites, Ratard said.

There are two kinds of mosquitos, one of which will bite late at night, he said. To protect against bites from those mosquitos, he recommends mosquito-proofing one’s house and staying inside during the late-night hours. To protect against mosquitos, he said, people should ensure they have screens that are free of holes on all the doors and windows in their home.

“And if you are going out at night, wear long pants and long sleeves, because that’s when they usually bite,” he said.

The other mosquito type, which is still capable of transmitting West Nile but is less likely to do so, will bite during the day, Ratard said. Mosquito repellant — reapplied during the day as it wears off — will provide a defense from the potentially virus-carrying insects, he said.

The local municipalities are also taking preventative measures to protect residents from mosquitos.

To control the insects within the city limits, the town of Franklinton sprays twice a week for mosquitos during the summertime, said Public Works office manager Sarah Davis.

Bogalusa Public Works Director James Hall said city has been spraying five days a week, twice a day — in the morning and at night — since April.

“I have one truck that sprays one half of town and another truck that sprays the other half of town,” he said.

The crew sprays areas that are city property, primarily right of ways, and puts mosquito briquettes in the ditches to try to limit the number of mosquitos by killing the larva, Hall said.

Hall asks for homeowners’ help in fighting the mosquito population, as there are countless places where water can accumulate and serve as a breeding ground for the pests. Even a magnolia leaf can collect water and become a problem area, he said.

“People don’t realize that, but a magnolia leaf will fall off the tree and when it lands it will catch water,” he said. “If you watch that leaf, you’ll see little larva swimming around in it before long.”

All containers that hold water should be emptied, Hall said. If a container cannot be dumped out, adding a couple of drops of bleach to the water will kill the mosquito larva, he advises.

“That is the biggest problem with mosquitos is the larva,” he said. “Mosquitos don’t live that long, but they’re constantly hatching out.”

Residents should keep the bushes around their home trimmed and their grass cut, “because mosquitos love tall, damp grass,” Hall said, also offering some closing words about the mosquito battle.

“The mosquitos and roaches were here before we ever got here, and they’re probably going to be here after we leave,” he said. “All we can try to do is control them.”