LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is reporting the first human case of the potentially deadly neuroinvasive West Nile disease in Acadiana since 2018.

Louisiana has reported two deaths and 14 cases of the disease to date in 2022, according to LDH officials. There are two types of West Nile: neuroinvasive and non-neuroinvasive. Neuroinvasive includes cases reported as meningitis, encephalitis, or acute flaccid paralysis. All cases in Louisiana to date in 2022 have been neuroinvasive.

Herff Jones of Iberia Parish Mosquito Control stated, “This is not a surprise. West Nile virus and its related cousins, the other encephalitis viruses, are endemic to Louisiana and to the United States. Meaning that they are a part of our biological and ecological systems where we live for good.”

“We know its behavior. Its flight range is about a mile to a mile and a half,” stated Jones.

The news comes a day after mosquito samples submitted for testing from Iberia Parish Mosquito Control District tested positive for West Nile.

“This is shaping up to be a very challenging West Nile season and we are entering the peak time for transmission in our state,” said Region 4 Medical Director Dr. Tina Stefanksi. “That is why it is so important for residents to please remember to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites whenever you are participating in outdoor activities.”

According to LDH, West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes and can cause illness in people and animals. While 80% of human cases are asymptomatic, many people can develop West Nile fever. A flu-like illness, symptoms can include fever, headache, body aches, nausea or rashes.

A small percentage of people sickened by West Nile virus can develop a severe form of infection called West Nile neuroinvasive disease or West Nile encephalitis, which can result in hospitalization and death. Symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, muscle weakness, numbness, coma and paralysis.

These symptoms may last several weeks and carry the risk of death or permanent brain damage. While anyone is at risk of developing severe disease, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and those who are over 60 years of age are at a greater risk. 

LDH said it has received reports of the West Nile virus present in more than 687 positive mosquito pools statewide this year, a significant increase over the 242 positive pools reported at this time last year. In Acadiana alone, the number of mosquito pools has jumped from eight at this time last year to 56 this year. 

Tips to protect yourself against West Nile

  • 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.

Protecting your home from mosquitoes

  • 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 to 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.