NEW ORLEANS (AP) - West Nile virus cases in Louisiana are way down from a year ago but the state epidemiologist says people statewide still need to protect themselves against mosquitoes.
Knowing where people have become ill or where the virus has been found in mosquito pools can give people a false sense of security because West Nile is statewide, Dr. Raoult Ratard said Thursday.
"People are insisting, 'It's not in my parish, it's next door.' But that means nothing," Ratard said. "Next week it may be in your parish. The risk is there."
Precautions include using insect repellant, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, fixing holes in door and window screens, and making sure there's no standing water in your yard.
Louisiana Department of Health statistics show 12 cases through last week, compared to 79 by the same week in 2018. That includes six cases of dangerous nervous system infections, down from 48 at this time last year.
Those "neuroinvasive" infections of the brain and spinal cord are the best indicator of the virus's prevalence, Ratard said.
The three cases of flu-like West Nile fever confirmed as of Saturday are down from 21 a year earlier.
Ratard said it's difficult to tell what causes year-to-year changes because so many factors are involved including conditions up in trees during the spring, when mosquitoes feed on nesting birds, rain and drought later on and when mosquitoes come down to feed on mammals.
People age 65 and older are at most risk of neuroinvasive disease, which can kill or leave permanent damage, he noted.