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Paynesville Press - August 31, 2005

Minnesota records first West Nile death of year

An elderly woman in southwestern Minnesota has died after being infected with the West Nile virus, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The death from West Nile encephalitis is the first to be reported in Minnesota in 2005. The woman had been hospitalized since early August.

To date, there have been 13 West Nile cases reported in humans in Minnesota, including one human case in Kandiyohi County. Last year, 34 human cases were reported in the state, with two deaths.

"We are saddened by this loss and our sympathies are with her family," said Dr. Harry Hull, Minnesota State Epidemiologist. "This death clearly reminds us that infection with West Nile virus can be very serious, even life-threatening, particularly for the elderly and people with chronic health conditions. It's very important that everybody take measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites."

Minnesota is still in the period of highest risk for West Nile virus, from August through September, said David Neitzel, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health. "This death occurred in an area of the state that we know has a higher risk of West Nile infection, underscoring the need for people in western and central Minnesota to be extra vigilant about prevention until the end of the mosquito season," Neitzel said.

To reduce your risk of being bitten by a mosquito:

•While outside among mosquitoes, use a good mosquito repellent, such as those containing no more than 30 percent of the active ingredient DEET. Products containing the active ingredient picaridin are also now commercially available.

•Minimize outdoor activities at dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are most actively feeding.

•Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants if you have to spend time in an area where mosquitoes are biting.

•Eliminate mosquito breeding sites on and around your property - including items such as old tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, cans, other containers, and anything else that can hold a small amount of water. Change the water in birdbaths and horse troughs at least weekly.

The threat of any one person becoming ill from West Nile virus is extremely low, according to Dr. Hull. For those who do become infected, West Nile rarely results in severe illness. Most people will experience a less severe form of the disease or no symptoms at all. Fewer than one out of every 150 people who become infected will become severely ill with encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.

The elderly are at greatest risk of developing encephalitis from a West Nile infection. The fatality rate for those who develop encephalitis is around 10 percent.

Symptoms of the illness usually show up two to 15 days after being bitten. They can include headache, high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and coma.

People who suspect that they may have West Nile should see a physician.

Information on the West Nile virus and other forms of mosquito-related encephalitis are available at People who have questions about West Nile virus can also call the health department at 1-877-676-5414 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

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