Louisiana and Mississippi are leading the nation in the number of people who have become the most seriously ill from West Nile virus this year. State health departments are warning residents to take precautions against mosquitoes, which spread the virus.
As of Aug. 21, Louisiana had 18 cases of West Nile encephalitis or meningitis out of a national total of 133, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday on its website. Mississippi had 15 such “neuroinvasive” cases, Texas 14 and California 12.
South Dakota had nine, Iowa seven, Nebraska six and Alabama and Pennsylvania five each.
“Not in my house, not on my skin, not in my yard,” said Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist, as he repeated the state slogan for fighting the disease Wednesday. Precautions include making sure door and window screens don’t have holes; wearing long clothes and using mosquito repellent; and making sure the yard doesn’t hold any standing water where mosquitoes might breed — even a bottle cap.
Dr. Paul Byers, Mississippi’s state epidemiologist, said Mississippi is “always” among the states with the highest rates for West Nile virus.
“Regardless of whether we report the disease in your county … we want everybody to take those appropriate precautions,” Byers said.
The CDC reported eight deaths so far this year: two in South Dakota and one each in Louisiana, Iowa, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Overall, the CDC said, 45 states and the District of Columbia have reported the virus in people, birds or mosquitoes this year.
About one in five infected people becomes ill, and the virus spreads to the nervous system in about one in 150.
West Nile fever diagnoses depend on whether a patient even goes to the doctor, and then on whether the doctor tests for it. And most people bitten by an infected mosquito never show any symptoms. They’re diagnosed only if their blood is tested.