Two more West Nile virus deaths and 14 more cases of the disease were confirmed in Louisiana on Friday, bringing the state's death toll to seven and the total number of cases to 85.
State health officials released the latest totals at an afternoon news conference. The latest deaths included a 76-year-old woman in St. Tammany Parish and a 94-year-old woman in Tangipahoa Parish, both areas north of Lake Pontchartrain where many of the state's other cases have occurred.
Across the nation, a total of eight people's lives have been claimed by the virus, seven in Louisiana and one in Mississippi, and at least 112 cases have been identified in Louisiana and five other states.
Other cases have been reported in Mississippi, Texas and Illinois. Two other human cases were announced earlier this week, in Alabama and Washington, D.C., but were confirmed too late to be included in the CDC report.
The announcement of the deaths came as the family of an earlier victim — also a 76-year-old St. Tammany woman — warned that the people who spend a lot of time outdoors are not the only ones susceptible to the virus, which can cause deadly encephalitis. Even someone who almost never goes outside can die from West Nile, especially if he or she has other medical problems.
Thomas Smegal of Covington and his eight children want people to be aware of that. They learned Wednesday that the virus killed Smegal's 76-year-old wife, Nona Smegal, on Aug. 2.
Like three other victims identified by relatives, Mrs. Smegal had other serious medical problems: in her case, emphysema which kept her on oxygen and a heart attack suffered 18 months ago.
Capt. Thomas Smegal, one of two sons in the New Orleans Police Department, says he used to think daily news reports overplayed the virus's importance.
"They make a list, you know: `Wear long sleeves. Don't go out at night. Empty standing water.' And I'm like, 'God, will you spend some time on something else?'
"But now, all of a sudden, I'm thinking they'd better keep saying this," he said. "And people had better be paying attention."
Mrs. Smegal went to bed two weeks ago with a bad headache. The next morning, she had a high fever, very low blood pressure, and was throwing up. Smegal, 78, took his wife to the hospital.
Two days later, she was comatose. Last Friday, she died.
Mrs. Smegal was on oxygen and spent most of her days in the house reading. The Smegals think a mosquito that got into the house must have given the virus to Mrs. Smegal.
Daughter Sue London said it's important to realize that "you don't have to be an outdoors person to be susceptible" to the virus. "And people with a compromised immune system have to be especially careful."
Dr. Lyle Petersen, a CDC West Nile expert said advanced age remains the biggest risk factor for getting sick from the bite of an infected mosquito. Health officials don't compile statistics for other health problems young West Nile victims had, but they suspect many have a condition that weakens their immune systems.
As CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports, it is Louisiana that is feeling the brunt of the epidemic, the worst outbreak in U.S. history.
Louisiana health officials predicted the West Nile virus epidemic would worsen, and it has. Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster has declared a state of emergency and is asking federal officials for money to beef up mosquito-killing efforts.
Since its first appearance in the United States in New York in 1999, the virus has been detected in 34 states and Washington, D.C. Nearly every state east of the Rocky Mountains has discovered the virus in dead birds, from Maine to North Dakota to Texas.
Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will not become noticeably ill, but some develop flu-like symptoms. Some develop encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain infection. State and local officials have boosted mosquito-spraying efforts and urged people to protect themselves by using mosquito repellent and removing standing water.