Louisiana confirms four West Nile deaths; virus puts a dozen more in hospital


Friday, August 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


SLIDELL, La. (AP) _ The West Nile virus has infected 58 Louisiana residents, killing four and putting at least a dozen in the hospital, state officials said Friday. The governor has declared an emergency.

The mosquito-borne virus has now been found in virtually every corner of the state, the Department of Health and Hospitals said.

The deaths, the first this year in the United States, raised the national West Nile toll to 22 since 1999. The virus can cause the potentially fatal brain inflammation known as encephalitis, as well as milder illnesses.

Of the 12 infected residents known to be hospitalized, four were in intensive care, the department said.

Gov. Mike Foster declared a statewide emergency, a move he said could help bring in federal money for parishes (the Louisiana term for counties) that are spraying more heavily than usual to fight mosquitos.

``There ought to be some kind of relief. This is an emergency situation,'' Foster said Thursday on his weekly ``Live Mike'' radio show.

Earlier this week, health officials confirmed that an 83-year-old Baton Rouge woman had died from West Nile. The latest deaths were a 53-year-old man from Folsom, a 75-year-old man from Baton Rouge and a 72-year-old man from the town of Iowa in Calcasieu Parish.

Following an initial outbreak in southeastern Louisiana in June, the virus has now spread to New Orleans in the far southeast, the Lake Charles area in southwestern Louisiana and to the Monroe area in the northeast.

The virus was first detected in the United States in New York City, and in the past three years it has spread to 34 states and the District of Columbia, as far west as South Dakota. Before the newly announced deaths, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed 185 human cases and 18 deaths.

West Nile has struck other countries for decades, from the tip of Africa up to Europe and throughout Asia.

The virus infects numerous types of wild birds, from house sparrows to crows. Mosquitoes spread it among birds, and then to people. A spate of dead birds can be an early warning that the virus is circulating in a certain spot.