Across America, this is the year of West Nile Virus.
The virus was first discovered in the United States in 1999. Since then, there have been thousands of cases reported of people who have contracted the sometimes deadly disease.
However, 2012 has seen the most cases. As of early September, more than 2,100 cases and 90 deaths have been recorded, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
West Nile has been reported in states from coast to coast, but 70 percent of the cases come from just six states, including Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports 176 infections in the state and 10 deaths from the virus so far in 2012. Louisiana saw its most cases of West Nile in 2002 when 328 cases were diagnosed and 24 deaths reported.
Humans contract the virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The mosquito becomes a carrier of West Nile Virus after biting an infected bird.
“You have to get the right mosquito that has been infected,” says Dr. David Holcombe, medical director for Region 6 of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, “to actually be injected with West Nile Virus.”
Bruce D. Greenstein, DHH Secretary, cautions that more cases of West Nile may be diagnosed in the weeks to come following the massive rainfall amount Hurricane Isaac dumped on south Louisiana.
"During a hurricane, floodwater washes out stagnant water and disrupts mosquito breeding. It's the coming weeks that pose a health threat, as standing water collects and more people head outside to clean up after the storm," said Greenstein. "Also, as people resume their daily activities and the weather gets cooler, they will start spending more time outside for tailgating, football games and cookouts. This makes them more at risk for mosquito bites and West Nile. Take the steps to protect yourself and your family from this disease."
John Giroir Jr., M.D. with the Emergency Department at Rapides Regional says recognizing and diagnosing West Nile is often tricky. Some people have the West Nile Virus and never know it.
“There are varying degrees of severity; you know some people may wind up having it and never know and not have a terrible problem with it," he says.
For some, the effects may be similar to having the flu: fever, headaches, stiff neck. For others, the symptoms are severe and even fatal.
While the effects of West Nile vary, there are several ways to protect you and your family.
The CDC recommends you follow the 4D defense:
- Use mosquito repellants that contain DEET
- Dress in long sleeves and pants
- Stay indoors at dusk and dawn
- Drain standing water where mosquitoes breed.