Louisiana confirms state's first death from West Nile virus

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals confirmed on Friday the state's first death from West Nile virus in the 2013 season.

The death occurred in Rapides Parish, which experienced one case of neuroinvasive West Nile virus since the beginning of the season. While most people who contract West Nile virus are asymptomatic, a small number of infected individuals will show symptoms associated with neuroinvasive disease, including brain damage, paralysis and death.

"The state's first death is a reminder of how serious this disease is," Raoult Ratard, the state epidemiologist, said. "We all need to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and our families."

During the 2013 season, Ouachita Parish reported nine cases of neuroinvasive disease and Caldwell and Lafayette parishes each reported two cases. Rapides, St. Tammany and Calcasieu parishes each reported one case of neuroinvasive disease.

There were 10 new cases of West Nile virus reported in the past week, brining the season's total number of cases up to 31. In 2012, Louisiana reported 160 cases of West Nile neuroinvasive disease in the state.

West Nile virus spreads from infected mosquitoes to humans. Approximately 90 percent of all cases are asymptomatic. Most people who become symptomatic will develop West Nile fever, in which individuals experience flu-like symptoms.