Louisiana: St. Louis Encephalitis outbreak continues

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[Note: See other news releases, and fact sheets, on the Louisiana DoH website; the CDC did send a team. The human case count from this outbreak is now in the low 40s, with I think 2 deaths, as of today, Wed 5 Sept 01.]

NEWS RELEASE - August 27, 2001

CONTACT: Bob Johannessen, 225-342-1532


Encephalitis Outbreak Climbs to 36 Cases

Health Department asks CDC for help, coordinates local response Baton Rouge - Health officials with the Department of Health and Hospitals have sent a letter to the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta asking for assistance in addressing the St. Louis encephalitis outbreak centered in Ouachita Parish. This second call for federal assistance follows reports that the number of confirmed encephalitis cases has risen from 31 last week to 36 today, with the latest case in Bastrop.

In addition, today David Hood, DHH secretary, and other high ranking state officials are meeting with local officials. "We are here to discuss additional efforts that can be undertaken to control the outbreak," Hood said. "To date, there has been collaboration between the Office of Public Health, Mosquito Control and city officials. We are calling for other health care experts and public agencies to join in this effort."

Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist, continues to urge people to immediately take any and all precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites. "From the outset, we have stressed the importance of protecting yourself from mosquito bites," Ratard said. "In addition to using mosquito repellant and wearing long sleeves whenever outside, people must also mosquito-proof their homes."

Ratard said that during his visit last week, he learned that living conditions can greatly influence whether or not people get bitten by mosquitoes. Homes with open windows, broken glass and torn screens are very susceptible to having mosquitoes gain entrance. And, tall, uncut ground can provide excellent habitat for mosquitoes.

Throughout the state, the Office of Public Health has continued to urge citizens to report dead birds, and bring the birds to the nearest parish health unit. To date, OPH has received reports of 284 dead birds and collected 95. Most reports of dead birds have come from Orleans, Ouachita, Franklin and East Baton Rouge parishes.

According to Ratard, the epidemiological investigation is continuing to move forward. "We have more knowledge of this outbreak today than we had a week ago," he said. "This knowledge has allowed us to provide residents with more information about where the outbreak is centered, and some of the demographic factors that are common among people who have become infected."

Ratard's team has set up a command post in a local fire station where maps that define and plot the boundaries of the outbreak are posted. The team has been in constant contact with Mayor Jamie Mayo's office and other local officials, as well as with the CDC.

"The CDC people are telling us that they believe we have taken all the appropriate steps to combat an outbreak of this nature," he said. "But, we would still be more comfortable if they would send us more experts who might be able to provide further technical assistance."

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), September 05, 2001

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