Health

Louisville health officials have reported the first death from West Nile virus since 2019; two others have tested positive and been hospitalized. 

The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness first reported mosquitoes carrying the virus in seven ZIP codes in early August, and began fogging those areas. But they said residents should assume they’re in all parts of the city this time of year. 

“Mosquitoes are still breeding, they will continue to breed, lay eggs and hatch until we get a freeze,” said Connie Mendel, the department’s director of environmental health. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 80% of people infected don’t have symptoms, with one in five having flu-like symptoms. 

Around one in 150 people who have West Nile develop serious illness, which can affect the central nervous system. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, around 20% of people develop a mild illness known as “West Nile fever,” which can include fever, headaches, body aches, diarrhea, vomiting and a skin rash. 

In less than 1% of cases, the virus causes a neurological reaction, which can include high fever, severe headache, disorientation, coma or partial paralysis. 

Mendel said most cases go undiagnosed or people have mild symptoms. The rarer severe cases are more likely in people over 60 or among those with underlying health conditions. 

To help protect against bites, health officials recommend people wear long pants, long sleeves and socks when outdoors, and use insect repellent. Those with underlying health conditions should consider avoiding the outdoors when mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Mendel said they should also assess their home to see if there are things that could draw the insects. 

“It’s important to take a look at your screens on your windows, make sure that those are in good repair or that you have screens, making sure there’s no standing water in your backyard,” she said. 

In the past six years, there have been 22 human West Nile cases reported in Jefferson County, with three deaths. 

 

Aprile Rickert is WFPL's health reporter.