Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Risks lie in wait for us at every corner

15th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

Upon hearing of the manner in which Gerald Alexander Youman died, I joined the other members of Our Mother of Mercy Church in a collective gasp. He was put into the hospital for seizures, we were told, but, while being examined, the doctors found to their shock that his life was being terminated by the West Nile virus.

This information puzzled my mind as I neared the vicinity of the Bayou Teche city of New Iberia, Louisiana. An area that seldom lacks for rain, it is prime territory for breeding mosquitoes, the pesky parasites that carry the West Nile virus from old hosts to new hosts through the process of sucking the warm blood of mammals.

However, it is a very curious anomaly of weather conditions that Texas, not known for swamps and waterways, has the highest incidence of West Nile Virus in the nation. Alas, the “Culex pipens” household variety of mosquito that spreads the virus likes a hot, dry summer with a little rain here and there, plus stagnant water.

All that’s needed for an ideal breeding place is a discarded car tire or two, empty cans and bottles, a little water or a stagnant ditch without hungry minnows.

This partially explains why a relatively dry area like Dallas has the most WNV cases of all cities and why Texas has the most cases in the lower 48 states. Because of their physical isolation, Hawaii and Alaska do not have any cases of the virus.

With Texas in the lead, 70 percent of the cases in this country have occurred in eight states: Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Michigan, California, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Illinois. It should be noted that most of these are not water-rich states.

In any case, with each funeral of a WNV victim, folks are left wondering and preoccupied about their chances of being infected, whether they live in water-rich areas like the Louisiana bayou country or in more arid places like parts of Texas.

What are the odds of serious illness when someone is bitten by an infected mosquito? Only about one in 150 of those bitten will come down with the severe form of the disease. But further unnerving, WNV is related to mosquito-borne viruses that cause St. Louis encephalitis, dengue fever, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis.

While everyone is at risk of being infected with WNV, those most at risk are people 50 or older with underlying health issues. Look out for WNV symptoms that mimic flu-like illness with 102 or more degrees of fever, strong headaches, severe muscle aches or joint pains, eye pain, mental changes, fatigue, nausea and respiratory issues.

Up to this point in 2012, the CDC has reported a total of 3,545 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 147 deaths. Of these, 1,816 (51%) were classified as neuroinvasive disease (such as meningitis or encephalitis) and 1,729 (49%) were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease. This is the highest WNV incidence since 2003.

The virus was discovered in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, and later found in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Now it is found across the continental United States, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. Likely carried by an infected stowaway mosquito in a plane or ship, the virus we have in the States is an Israeli strain.

Any discussion like this remains a bit abstract until it touches someone close to us. What are the Youman family members to think about the risks of their environment since their beloved Gerald fell victim to the WNV? As if it were not bad enough that we already have many threats to our health, here comes this new deadly risk to our very life.

Where mosquitoes abound for much of the year, how can the Youmans and all their neighbors not be gun-shy and a tad uneasy from dusk to dawn? As WNV victim Gerald’s homegoing celebration was in progress, all our prayers, praise and thanksgiving for his life were somewhat muffled by the reality of what had happened to him.

At times like these, one has the uneasy feeling that even Mother Nature is part of a conspiracy against our health and well-being. Yet, if we must linger outside after dark, we should double down in courage while taking care with long sleeves and even DEET.

We reach out with prayers and support for Gerald Youman’s family. “You can run but you can’t hide” means that we must adjust to the environment where we live.

This article was originally published in the October 15, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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