Saturday, August 24, 2002

West Nile likely in man's death

Bridgetown case also confirmed; prognosis is good

By The Associated Press
and The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The West Nile virus is suspected of causing the death of a 79-year-old man from Clermont County, which would make it the first possible human death from the virus in the state, the state epidemiologist said on Friday.

        At the same time, tests confirmed Friday that a 61-year-old Bridgetown man has West Nile virus, though he is expected to recover.

        The man who died, who is not being identified, died of encephalitis on Aug. 12, said Forrest Smith, epidemiologist for the Ohio Department of Health. That illness was probably caused by the West Nile virus, Mr. Smith said.

        It is the 14th suspected case of the virus in Ohio, Mr. Smith said.

        The very old, very young and those with weak immune systems are most likely to be affected by the disease. The Clermont County man's case “fits into the category most at risk,” Mr. Smith said.

        The state has sent lab samples from the man to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for final testing.

        The Bridgetown man is the first person in Hamilton County to test positive for the mosquito-borne virus. Mercy Franciscan Western Hills Hospital officials would not say how long he has been in the hospital or release other details. He did not give the hospital permission to discuss his case.

        “But it looks like he's probably going to be OK,” said Pete Gemmer, a spokesman for the Hamilton County General Health District.

        The Ohio Department of Health informed the Health District that the man, who is being treated at the hospital, had tested positive. Health officials said he is in good condition.

        Tim Ingram, Hamilton County health commissioner, said more cases could be seen because this is the peak season for mosquitoes.

        “Studies show that, even in the areas where West Nile virus is circulating, less than 1 percent of people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will become seriously ill,” he said. “So for 99 percent of the population that is actually bitten by an infected mosquito, there is very little risk.”

        The state health department urged Ohioans to avoid activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are likely to be biting.

        Ohioans who must be outside should wear long pants, shoes and socks and dress in light colors, which are less attractive to mosquitoes, said Richard Berry, chief of the Health Department's insect-borne disease program.

        They also should eliminate any standing water on their property to eliminate mosquitoes' breeding sites, Mr. Berry said. That includes discarded tires and blocked gutters, he said.

        Also Friday, the Department of Natural Resources reported that dozens of sick and dying owls and hawks have been reported in Ohio, and tests indicate several died of the West Nile virus.

        The state urged Ohioans to leave any dead or injured birds alone. Sick birds can be reported online at the DNR's Web site.

        The virus first was found in the state in a blue jay in July 2001. It is carried by mosquitoes and can be fatal to birds and horses but rarely to humans.

        Most people bitten by an infected mosquito don't become noticeably ill, but some develop flu-like symptoms.

        At least 14 people have died nationally from West Nile virus in 2002, according to the CDC. Hardest hit is Louisiana, with eight deaths.

        The virus had never been reported in the Western Hemisphere until August 1999, when seven people died in New York City.

        “Our immune system has never been challenged by this virus, so we're all susceptible,” Mr. Smith said.


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