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Ventura County

1st West Nile Case in County Found

Health officials believe the Oxnard man contracted the virus in Florida or the Caribbean. He has since made a full recovery.

November 15, 2002|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

An Oxnard man has contracted West Nile virus, but county health officials said Thursday they believe he became infected while working in Florida or the Caribbean.

The case is the first in Ventura County and the sixth in California, officials said. Five victims acquired the virus east of the Rocky Mountains, while the origin of one Los Angeles case remains a mystery.

Although health and environmental officials said they assumed the local case was "imported," they warned that the virus -- which is harbored by birds and transmitted by mosquitoes -- will arrive in the area within the next year or so.

"This stuff is coming here," said Dr. Robert M. Levin, the county's top health officer. "It's only a matter of time. One of these days I will be responsible for saying someone has the West Nile virus and that they got it in our county."

The Oxnard man, whom officials declined to identify to protect his privacy, has fully recovered since first showing symptoms in mid-October. He was never hospitalized, and officials emphasized that the virus cannot be transmitted from human to human.

"This case was surprising but not unexpected," said William Stratton of the county's Environmental Health division.

Stratton said that for several years, his office has been regularly testing mosquitoes and chickens throughout the area and that no evidence of the virus has appeared so far. The heavy mosquito season runs from May through October.

According to officials, the Oxnard man returned home Oct. 8 after working in Florida and the Caribbean. He began to feel ill Oct. 14, and two days later he went to a local emergency room for treatment of flu-like symptoms, including a headache, fever and nausea.

"In this case, some astute clinician, thinking this person could have the West Nile virus, ordered the correct panel of tests," Levin said.

The man left the hospital the same day and recovered within a few days. The blood sample he provided doctors was shipped to a state biologist, who notified county officials Wednesday of the positive test.

The first case of the virus in the state was detected in early September when a 31-year-old Los Angeles County woman was treated for meningitis caused by the West Nile infection. She has fully recovered.

In that case -- unlike the others in the state -- health officials don't know how she acquired the virus. The woman had not traveled outside the region and did not remember being bitten by a mosquito.

A second case also occurred in Los Angeles County, and the others were reported in Orange and Contra Costa counties and San Francisco. In those cases, the patients had traveled outside the state prior to being infected.

Health officials said that people experience mild symptoms in about one in five cases, and about one in 150 of those infected need hospitalization. A vast majority of patients display no symptoms.

The virus, in its most serious form, can cause death.

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