West Nile virus and St. Louis Encephalitis virus, both from the same family of viruses called flaviviruses which cause similar diseases, are two of several mosquito-borne viruses common to Louisiana.
Humans contract West Nile when they are bitten by mosquitos infected with the virus. When people are infected with West Nile, the virus might affect them one of three ways. West Nile neuroinvasive disease is the most serious type, infecting the brain and spinal cord. Neuroinvasive disease can lead to death, paralysis and brain damage.
The milder viral infection is West Nile fever, in which people experience flu-like symptoms.
Finally, there are those who are infected but do not experience any symptoms, and never even know they’ve contracted the disease. Of course, the next question is ‘how do we learn they had West Nile?’ The answer is we usually don’t learn of these cases unless the infected person goes to give blood, and the blood screening identifies the virus. It’s for this reason that we rarely identify and report these cases, even though we know they are the most common.
Protect Yourself from Mosquitos
For the best protection when you will be outside, wear a mosquito repellent containing DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30 percent DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than two months. CDC recommends that you always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label when using repellent.
- Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Do not apply under your clothes or on broken skin.
- To apply repellent to your face, spray on your hands and then rub on your 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.
- Make sure that your house had tight-fitting windows and doors, and that all screens are free of holes.
Don’t Breed Mosquitoes
Many people are unwitting mosquito breeders. They have helped create the ideal breeding grounds on their property that result in swarms of nuisance and disease-carrying mosquitos. Reduce the mosquito population by eliminating standing water around your home, which is where mosquitoes breed. Take these steps today:
- Dispose of tin cans, ceramic pots and other unnecessary containers that have accumulated on your property. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools, buckets, trash cans, children's toys or anything that could collect water. When these fill with water, mosquitoes quickly arrive and start laying eggs.
- Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers. Drainage holes that are located on the container sides collected enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
- Check and clean roof gutters routinely. 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 by a family for a month can produce enough mosquitoes to result in neighborhood-wide complaints. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.
Each week, the Louisiana Department of Health updates and posts our Arboviral Report with more detailed information about West Nile virus infections in Louisiana. The reports are available here.
For more information about LDH’s effort to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, click here.