NEW ORLEANS – The nationwide death toll from the rapidly spreading West Nile virus climbed to 11 on Friday as two new victims were reported, one in Louisiana and another in Illinois.
The death of a 78-year-old Livingston Parish man was the eighth in Louisiana, where the mosquito-borne disease has hit hardest. The state also reported 62 new human cases, bringing the total this year to 147 in easily the worst outbreak in U.S. history.
In Illinois, state health director John Lumpkin said a 67-year-old man died Aug. 10 after being admitted to the hospital with the virus. It was the first West Nile death in Illinois history.
The state also reported three non-fatal cases.
"The results are very serious but we want to remind people that this is still a very rare disease among people bitten by mosquitos," Lumpkin said.
The virus has spread rapidly since it was first detected in the United States, in New York three years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus killed 18 people from 1999 through 2001.
Besides this year's deaths in Louisiana and Illinois, two people have died in Mississippi.
The virus has been found in every state east of the Rocky Mountains, with states as far west as Colorado and Wyoming saying they have confirmed animal cases. It is expected to spread to the West Coast.
A CDC West Nile expert, Dr. Lyle Petersen, said the disease's peak this year may not come for several weeks, and that "a lot more cases" could be reported before cooler weather kills the disease-carrying insects.
Petersen predicted 1,000 people could be infected this year and 100 could die.
In coastal Georgia, mosquito control experts said dozens of people have called with questions about West Nile.
"People are very, very aware of the outbreak, and they're concerned," said Henry Lewandowski, director of Savannah's Chatham County Mosquito Control Commission.
In Texas, one of the hardest-hit states this year with 16 human cases, Houston health officials hope to publicize prevention methods without causing panic.
"We're not trying to alarm people," said Sandy Kachur of the Harris County Public Health Services. "We tell people in the summertime they always need to wear sunscreen when they go outside. Now it looks like it's almost going to be that way with insect repellent, too. It's something we're always going to have to be aware of from now on."