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West Nile Virus fatality in Michigan reinforces mosquito precautions

August 20, 2012 – West Nile Virus has claimed the life of a woman from Washtenaw County, marking Michigan's first death from the mosquito-borne illness this year. The woman, who was between 75 and 85 years of age, was reportedly in good health prior to showing symptoms of the virus and being hospitalized earlier this month.

According to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), Michigan is one of several Midwestern states reporting an increased number of West Nile cases, occurring earlier than in past seasons. MDCH reports that Michigan's unusually hot, dry summer weather has favored mosquitoes that can carry the virus. Most cases occur in August and September; this year, the state's first confirmed case occurred in late July, involving a 44-year-old Oakland County man.

“There are simple precautions that will minimize the risk of exposure to mosquitoes carrying the virus,” explained Joshua Meyerson, M.D., Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Prevent water from being collected and remaining stagnant in buckets, kiddie pools, old car tires or anything else that could attract them, especially around dwellings. Use EPA-approved insect repellents with DEET, and cover as much skin as possible with light-colored clothing. This is particularly important around dusk and at dawn, when the mosquitoes are most active.” MDCH adds that people should be careful to keep door and window screens intact and closed, to prevent mosquitoes from entering buildings.

“There are no immediate signs of illness in someone bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus,” Dr. Meyerson continued. “Symptoms may develop in a few days, but these are usually limited to mild illness and fever that resolve normally. Most people do not become seriously ill, although older people – those 50 and above – are more susceptible. The worst-case scenarios involve encephalitis or meningitis, marked by unexplained stiffness in the neck, disorientation, muscle fatigue or paralysis.”

MDCH urges physicians to test patients for West Nile Virus if they present with any of these symptoms, or other signs of possible encephalitis or meningitis. Last year, the virus accounted for two deaths and 34 serious illnesses among Michigan residents. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 712 cases and 34 deaths nationwide.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties.