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California's first West Nile Virus fatality of the year

August 03, 2012|By Nika Soon-Shiong | Los Angeles Times
  • West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Avoiding the pests -- such as those in this trap in Pleasant Hill, Calif. -- is advised.
West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. Avoiding the pests… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

The California Department of Public Health has announced the state’s first fatality of the year due to West Nile Virus.

An 88-year-old woman from Kern County died after being infected by the virus, which is transmitted from mosquitoes to humans.

“This unfortunate death reminds us that we must protect ourselves from mosquito bites to prevent West Nile Virus and other mosquito borne infections,” Dr. Ron Chapman, the department's director, said Friday in a statement from the agency.

Mosquitoes pick up the virus when they feed on infected birds and spread it to humans with their bites. Symptoms in people typically develop three to 14 days after the infection.

About 80% of infected people do not experience symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mild symptoms can last for several weeks and include body ache, headache, vomiting, skin rashes and fever.

In serious cases, patients can develop a high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, vision loss or even paralysis for several weeks. Some people develop neurological symptoms such as encephalitis or meningitis. The neurological effects of West Nile may be permanent.

The CDC expects that one in 150 people infected with West Nile will face severe symptoms. Overall, almost 13,000 have become seriously ill from the virus since 1999 and more than 1,200 have died.

So far, 10 cases have been reported from five counties in California, but this is the first fatality. At this time last year, the state had seen seven cases with no fatalities.

The California Department of Public Health recommends following the “Three “Ds” to prevent exposure to mosquito bites:

*DEFEND: Use insect repellent that has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Apply repellent with DEET, the most active ingredient in repellents, to both skin and clothing.

*DAWN AND DUSK: Keep in mind that mosquitoes that carry this infection are most likely to bite at dawn and at dusk. Avoid exposure to the infection by closing windows and doors. It is recommended to avoid outside activity at this time, but if you have to go outside, be sure to wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.

*DRAIN: Drain standing water where mosquitoes are known to lay their eggs. This includes any sitting water in roof gutters, unused swimming pools, birdbaths, old car tires, etc.

Most people recover from the milder symptoms of West Nile without treatment. The Mayo Clinic suggests that for severe cases, immune cell therapy is a possible cure, although more research is necessary on this treatment option.

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