West Nile Virus is on the rise in Louisiana's mosquito population. Here's what you need to know

Misty Castile Ashley White
Shreveport Times

West Nile Virus is on the rise in mosquitos in Louisiana. 

The Louisiana Department of Health has received reports of West Nile virus present in more than 175 mosquito pools this year, a number significantly higher than the 13 pools from this time last year. 

No human cases have been reported so far this year, but the high number of positive pools indicates an increased possibility.

"We're seeing positive mosquito pools earlier in the year and in greater numbers than we have seen in the most recent couple of years," said Theresa Sokol, the state epidemiologist.

"What I can tell you about the pools that had been reported as positive so far, is that they really have been identified across a large swath of the state," she added. "We're in a position right now where you can assume that there are infected mosquitoes throughout Louisiana."

While people can develop West Nile Fever, 80% of human cases are asymptomatic. 

Symptoms are flu-like and can include fever, headache, body aches, nausea or rashes.

The Office of Public health is urging the public to take protective measures against mosquito bites.

A small percentage can develop a severe form of infection called West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease or West Nile Encephalitis, which can result in hospitalization and death. Symptoms may last several weeks and can lead to death or permanent brain damage. 

Those with pre-existing conditions or are over 60 years of age are at greater risk.

"I like to give a little bit of perspective. If you look overall at the risk of neuroinvasive disease among all people who are infected, it's about one person out of 150 that will get neuroinvasive disease," she said. "But if you look solely at the people who are 60 years of age and older, that's about one in 50."

The number of West Nile Neuroinvasive Disease cases fluctuates each year with previous case counts in Louisiana ranging between 4 and 204 cases each year.

“Now is the time to start protecting yourself from mosquito bites and eliminating mosquito breeding sites around your home,” said LDH State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. “We’re getting early warning signs from our Mosquito Abatement District samples across the state that West Nile Virus could result in higher case counts among humans this summer.”

LDH suggests these tips to protect yourself from mosquito bites:

  • If you will be outside, you should wear EPA-registered approved mosquito repellent and always follow product label instructions. 
  • Apply repellent on exposed skin and clothing, but do not apply under your clothes or on broken skin. 
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second. 
  • To protect yourself from being exposed to mosquitos while indoors, make sure that windows and doors are tight-fitting, and that all screens are free of holes.

You can also protect your home with those methods: 

  • Reduce the mosquito population by eliminating standing water around your home, which is where mosquitoes breed.
  • Dispose of tin cans, ceramic pots and other unnecessary containers that have accumulated on your property that may collect water. Turn over wheelbarrows, plastic wading pools, buckets, trash cans, children's toys or anything that could collect water.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of outdoor recycling containers. If a recycling container has holes on the sides, there is still room for the container to collect water for mosquitoes to breed, so holes should be added on the bottom if not already present.
  • Check and clean roof gutters routinely. Clogged gutters can produce millions of mosquitoes each season.
  • Water gardens and ornamental pools can become major mosquito producers if they are allowed to stagnate. Take steps to prevent stagnation, such as adding fish or aeration.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. A swimming pool that is left untended by a family for as little as 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. 

Contact local mosquito abatement districts to report problem mosquito areas.

More:Nursing shortages at Shreveport hospitals lead to long wait times; impact rural hospitals