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West Nile Claims Another Victim

The L.A. County man, who died last week, was at risk from preexisting conditions, officials say.

August 20, 2004|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

With the number of confirmed West Nile virus cases in California approaching 200 Thursday, Los Angeles County officials reported the sixth death in the state from the mosquito-borne illness.

Raul Cuevas, 60, who was vulnerable to the virus because of several preexisting ailments, died last week, health officials and the coroner's office said.

Cuevas, of Pico Rivera, died Aug. 12 from encephalitis caused by the virus, but he also suffered from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, said Dr. Laurene Mascola of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Cuevas' wife, Olivia, believes her husband was bitten by an infected mosquito several weeks ago as they sat together on their back porch.

"Three to four days later, he started feeling weak and lost his appetite," she said. "In less than 15 days, it was over. You can't believe it, that something so small took his life."

Compared with 2003, when California had three confirmed infections and no deaths, West Nile virus has exploded in the state this season, officials said.

"This is the first year really that West Nile has really hit California," Mascola said.

Health officials said there had been 199 cases in California this year, including 76 in San Bernardino County, 69 in L.A. County and 40 in Riverside County.

Mascola said that with the height of the virus season still to come, the totals in L.A. County are expected to climb. "By the time we're done, we'll have a couple hundred cases," she said.

Cuevas' death was the third in Los Angeles County. The others were a 91-year-old Northridge woman and an 88-year-old Long Beach resident.

"People need to take precautions," Mascola said. "People are learning that no mosquito is a good mosquito."

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