Orange County Health Care Agency officials confirmed the first human death this year due to West Nile Virus (WNV) in the Orange County area on Oct. 16. The agency identified the victim as an “elderly female resident of Tustin” who died as a result of infection complications.
According to the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District, the current WNV threat rating for Orange County is considered “Elevated Risk.” WNV is among the most deadly and prevalent mosquito-borne diseases. 553 cases and 44 deaths were recorded in California last year.
There have been eight West Nile cases reported thus far in Orange County, and cases have been reported in nearby Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Several other deaths have been reported statewide.
WNV is a neuroinvasive virus transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. People over 50 years of age, young children, and those with immune system weakening medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or hypertension are at a higher risk of contracting a severe infection. Serious cases of WNV lead to inflammation of the spinal cord or brain and can be life-threatening or fatal.
Infection occurs in less than 1 percent of those bitten by an infected mosquito. 80 percent of infected people do not display any symptoms of WNV. If symptoms do occur, they manifest 2 to 14 days after the initial mosquito bite. 20 percent of those infected display mild to moderate symptoms, including fever, headaches, nausea, swollen glands, or skin rashes. If severe symptoms of disorientation, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, or numbness and paralysis occur, please seek medical attention immediately. Permanent neurological effects due to brain damage may result from sustained serious symptoms.
No vaccines or anti-viral treatments are available for WNV, so precaution is vital in preventing infection this seasonal outbreak. Prevention strategies include limiting outside activity at dawn or dusk, when mosquitoes are most active, covering arms and legs when outdoors, and wearing insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Emptying or draining any bodies of standing water around personal property inhibits the formation of mosquito breeding sites. Because infected birds transmit WNV to mosquitoes, reporting sighted dead birds for WNV testing helps public health officials track the spread of the virus as well as determine regions where the virus is most active. Dead birds can be reported by calling (877)-WNV-BIRD.
Further information on West Nile virus can be found at www.ochealthinfo.com/westnilevirus.