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Paynesville Press - September 15, 2004

State records first West Nile death of 2004

By Michael Jacobson

A central Minnesota man in his 50s, with an underlying chronic disease, has died after being infected with the West Nile virus. His death is the first related to West Nile virus to be reported in Minnesota in 2004.

The man had been hospitalized since early August. To date, there have been 19 human West Nile cases reported in Minnesota. Last year, 148 cases were reported, with four deaths.

While expressing sympathy to the man's family, state epidemiologist Dr. Harry Hull said the state should see fewer West Nile cases this year. "The West Nile season appears to have peaked as mosquito populations are already declining," Hull explained.

Most of the cases being reported now are in people who were exposed to the virus in mid to late August, health officials said. Nevertheless, infection is still possible in some areas, so it is important for Minnesotans to prevent mosquito bites until the first hard frost ends mosquito activity altogether.

So far, the only case of West Nile virus in the tri-county area surrounding Paynesville in 2004 was reported in a bird in Stearns County. Protective measures against mosquitoes are particularly important for older Minnesotans and those with chronic illness, who are at a higher risk of developing severe illness from the West Nile virus.

To reduce your risk of being bitten by a mosquito:

*Use a good mosquito repellent, containing no more than 30 percent of the active ingredient DEET;

*Wear longsleeve shirts and long pants if you have to spend time in an area where mosquitoes are biting.

*Avoid outdoor activities at dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are feeding.

*Eliminate possible mosquito-breeding sites on and around your property - including items like old tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, cans and 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. Most mosquitoes do not carry the virus, so most people bitten by a mosquito will not be exposed to the virus.

For those who do become infected, West Nile rarely results in severe illness. Most people will experience only mild symptoms - or no symptoms at all. Fewer than one out of every 150 people who become infected will become severely ill. However, in some cases, West Nile can cause 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 do develop encephalitis is around 10 percent.

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

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

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