Mosquitoes can transmit the viruses that cause West Nile fever. Photo by Noah Poritz, courtesy United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service
Mosquitoes can transmit the viruses that cause West Nile fever. Photo by Noah Poritz, courtesy United States Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service

Orange County health officials Wednesday reported the area’s first West Nile virus-related death of 2016.

A La Habra resident in her 60s died of WNV infection complications, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency, which did not identify the woman or provide the exact date of her death.

“This unfortunate death shows how serious West Nile virus infection can be,” said Dr. Eric Handler, the county’s health officer. “It is important for people to remember that the end of summer does not mean the end of West Nile virus season.”

According to the HCA, Orange County has had 29 symptomatic WNV infections reported this year, and all but one of those patients was hospitalized. Twenty-five had WNV Neuroinvasive disease and four had WNV fever.

Doctors say the number of cases is actually much higher.

“Because about 80 percent of people infected with WNV have no symptoms, and the majorityof cases of West Nile fever do not seek medical care and are not tested, the reported case counts greatly underestimate the number of infected people in our county,” according to an HCA statement.

In 2015, Orange County logged 97 reported human infections of WNV and eight WNV-related deaths, while Los Angeles County recorded 300 human infections, including 24 fatalities.

Cases are generally reported between July and October or early November.

The elderly and other people with weak immune systems are at highest risk of developing severe illnesses such as meningitis and encephalitis.

Symptoms may never materialize, but can include fever, headache, nausea, body aches, skin rashes and swollen lymph nodes.

Mosquitoes typically become carriers of the virus after feeding on an infected bird and can then spread the potentially lethal strain to animals and humans.

To reduce exposure to West Nile virus, residents are urged to:

— limit outdoor activity at dawn or dusk, when mosquitoes are generally on the move;

— wear pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors;

— use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or products containing IR3535;

— ensure door and window screens are in good condition and fitted properly to keep bugs out; and

— get rid of standing water — aside from pools properly treated with chemicals — to reduce areas in which mosquitoes may breed, including flower pots and pet bowls.

Information on mosquito control is available on the Orange County Vector Control District’s website at www.ocvcd.org .

Updated information about WNV infections in Orange County can be found at www.ochealthinfo.com/westnilevirus

—City News Service

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