Test results confirmed that a 6-year-old girl was stricken with West Nile encephalitis, prompting Stanislaus County health officials to urge parents to take precautions for their children.
The child, who became ill July 6, experienced weakness on the right side of her body. She lost the ability to walk and has difficulty speaking.
Dr. John Walker, county public health officer, said Monday that the girl is showing signs of improvement. Officials did not release her name or identify her family. After becoming ill this month, she was medically evacuated to a pediatric specialty hospital.
Walker said that since the virus first appeared in the county in 2004, three local children have been hospitalized with the severe form of the disease. "To me, that is three too many," he said. "Our goal is to have no children with the severe form of the disease."
Even in milder cases of West Nile illness, symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and body aches lasting a few days or several weeks. More serious cases can result in high fever, neck stiffness, extreme weakness, tremors, convulsions, coma and paralysis.
The virus that causes West Nile illness is transmitted to people and animals through mosquito bites. Less than 1 percent of people infected develop the serious neurologic illness, which can cause long-term health effects.
County health officials are concerned that the endemic virus appeared locally a few weeks earlier than normal this year. Of the 11 cases reported in 2011, the onset of illness occurred from July 22 to Oct. 18.
Dan Davis of Ceres said his family is acutely aware that children can be stricken. His granddaughter, then 7 years old, was in a coma for more than six months after getting sick in September 2009.
Chloe, who will turn 10 on Wednesday, has gone through a slow recovery from the paralysis, with 24-hour care at home. She walks with the assistance of a walker. She is able to use her arms, and therapists are working to restore her muscle coordination.
A trachea tube was removed in January, and therapists soon will start teaching her to form words again, the grandfather said.
"It's a very slow recovery," said Davis, a retired Ceres fire chief. "She is relearning everything. It's about remapping her neurological system and coordinating her muscles to respond to what the brain wants them to do."
After Chloe spent much time in a hospital, family members with a health background were taught to care for Chloe at home.
Davis said his granddaughter has seen doctors from Oakland Children's Hospital & Research Center, Stanford University and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. No one can guess whether she will completely recover from the illness.
"They have never had a case this severe when the patient lived," Davis said.
He said Chloe is happy and enjoys her in-home schooling. She is taught reading comprehension, math and science through a special teaching system. Davis said she completed fourth grade and is doing fifth-grade work.
Chloe was healthy before she was stricken with West Nile, said Davis, who serves on a county task force that educates the public about the disease. He said he hasn't had contact with the family of the girl who became ill this month.
"People need to take the precautions that are recommended," Davis said. "Wear insect repellant with DEET and make sure you don't have standing water around your house."
Parents are advised to have their children wear protective clothing when outdoors in the morning or early evening, when mosquitoes are most active.
The first confirmed human case of West Nile illness in California this year was a 70-year-old woman in Kern County. In June, she was reported as hospitalized but recovering. The Stanislaus County girl was second, and a 59-year-old Clovis man was the third. He was hospitalized but has been released.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.