- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

The West Nile virus has killed four Louisiana residents and infected 58 persons statewide, state health officials said yesterday as the governor declared a state emergency to battle the mosquito-borne virus.
The fatalities involving people ranging in age from 53 to 83 were the first U.S. deaths from the virus this year, the first ever in Louisiana and the "first real outbreak" in the South since the disease was first detected in North America in 1999, a health department spokesman said.
"It doesn't look like this outbreak will be ending anytime soon" because the virus has been confirmed in so many areas of the state, said Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals spokesman Kyle Viator.
At least a dozen people infected with the virus have been hospitalized; four are in intensive care. Gov. Mike Foster yesterday sought $3 million to $5 million in federal aid for more mosquito spraying across the swampy state.
Last year, prior to this outbreak, only one nonfatal West Nile virus human infection was confirmed in Louisiana, Mr. Viator said. Officials have already predicted the virus could permanently reside in every U.S. state within the decade.
The virus is carried by mosquitoes that feed on infected birds and other animals. Most people bitten by the infected insects do not get sick, but the virus can cause flulike symptoms and encephalitis, a potentially fatal swelling of the brain, in the weak and elderly.
The deaths in Louisiana three men and one woman raised the total U.S. death toll from the West Nile virus from 18 to 22. To date, West Nile virus, which was first identified in New York City, has spread to 34 states, as far west as South Dakota, and the District of Columbia, said Llelwyn Grant, spokesman for the Atlanta-based federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr. Viator said the four deaths in his state have been confirmed since early July, but were first announced this week.
Older persons with chronic diseases and compromised immune systems are most at risk. Of the four who died in Louisiana, three were over 70, Mr. Viator said.
But people of all ages can be vulnerable to the virus, which can cause potentially fatal brain inflammations, as well as milder symptoms, Mr. Grant said. The CDC spokesman said one nonfatal American victim of West Nile virus was only 19.
Mr. Viator said the 58-year-old Louisiana man who died of the virus "worked around horses a lot," and being outdoors so much could have exposed him to infected mosquitoes.
After an initial outbreak in southeastern Louisiana in June, the virus has spread to New Orleans in the far southeast; to the Lake Charles area of the southwest region of the state; and to the Monroe section in the northeastern part of the state.
Louisiana public health officials were not surprised by the outbreak. Deaths of large numbers of wild birds that test positive for the virus typically precede human illness.
Mr. Viator said "large numbers of dead birds" were reported in the state in late May and early June. "Where the dead birds were found, that's where the human cases of [the virus] were found," he said.
The first cases of human infection with West Nile virus were confirmed during the first two weeks in June, Mr. Viator added.
Epidemiologists from the CDC are currently in Louisiana, investigating the outbreak with state health officials. "We're working hand-in-hand with the state, looking at medical records and autopsy reports," Mr. Grant said.
Federal health officials have been concerned about the virus getting a foothold in the South, where mosquitos can thrive year-round. "We had a pretty mild winter [in Louisiana] the mosquito population was heavier this winter" than usual, Mr. Viator said.
The CDC advises people to stay indoors "at dawn and dusk and the early evening," when mosquitoes do most of their biting.

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