The first person has died from West Nile virus in Merced County.
The Merced County Department of Public Health confirmed the death Wednesday.
The fatality is one of two in California this year. There are a total of 67 people in 13 counties who have tested positive for the virus, including the one in Merced.
The patient was identified as a man whose symptoms began Sept. 20. He was hospitalized the next day and died last Friday, said Richard Rios, manager of Community Health Services at the health department.
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Officials declined to identify the victim because of medical confidentiality laws. He lived in the northern part of Merced County.
Rios said older people and those with health problems are more at risk to developing serious illness or even death from the virus.
"We need to be particularly concerned for those persons over 50 years of age and persons with weakened immune systems, from other diseases and medical conditions, as they have a greater risk of illness due to infection from the West Nile virus," Dr. Tim Livermore, county health officer, said in a news release.
The death is a reminder that the virus can be transmitted by local mosquitoes, Rios said. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from birds, and pass it on to humans.
A total of 14 birds in the county have tested positive for the virus, said Allan Inman, manager-entomologist for the Merced County Mosquito Abatement District. Mosquitoes and chickens also have tested positive in the county.
Inman said the death of the Merced County resident came as a surprise because the virus hadn't been detected in the area where he lived. Standard procedure calls for district officials to begin to spray by air and ground when they find out the virus is in the area.
He encouraged people to call and report if they see standing water in their neighborhoods, and if they notice any unusual mosquito activities. "We rely in the public to help us focus our control efforts," he added.
He said the virus has been detected in several cities throughout the county, including Merced, Livingston, Winton, Los Banos, Hilmar, and a rural area outside Gustine, among other places. "It is really widespread right now," he said of the virus. "With the warm weather, the risk of transmission right now is extremely high."
According to Inman, district officials will be conducting enhanced surveillance and mosquito control activities in the locations where West Nile virus cases have been identified. He said the district has enough supply in hand.
District officials sprayed several areas in the county by air on Wednesday night, and will spray Livingston and Hilmar, tonight. Nine district employees also sprayed on the ground Wednesday night.
Inman said people should eliminate standing water in their homes, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and should apply insect repellent. People also are advised to wear light-colored clothes as mosquitoes are attracted to darker colors.
Officials also recommended avoiding being outside at dawn and dusk because mosquitoes that are infected tend to bite in the early morning and evening.
Rios said West Nile virus symptoms will vary from person to person. Some people may only experience flu-like symptoms.
The health department will issue a health advisory to local health providers to enhance the ongoing surveillance and preventive efforts in the county, Rios said.
For more information on mosquito abatement, contact Allan Inman at (209)722-1527. For information on West Nile virus and preventive steps, call Richard Rios at (209) 381-1130.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507, or firstname.lastname@example.org.