Man dies from West Nile virus in Stanislaus County

Culex Pipeins, more commonly known as a house mosquito, carries the West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis viruses.
Culex Pipeins, more commonly known as a house mosquito, carries the West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis viruses. Vida Staff Photo

A 74-year-old man has died from the West Nile virus, Stanislaus County health officials announced Monday morning.

“This serves as a warning that (the West Nile virus) is a serious disease that may lead to hospitalization and can even result in death,” county Public Health Office Dr. Julie Vaishampayan said in a news release.

The news comes less than a week after a human services professor at Modesto Junior College died following a prolonged battle with complications from West Nile. Kimberly Kennard came down with a debilitating illness in 2015 that was later diagnosed as West Nile. She was in and out of hospitals and was in a specialty care facility in Modesto for months before her death.

Vaishampayan said older adults and those with weak immune systems have the highest risk of serious infection from the West Nile virus or the neuroinvasive symptoms of the disease such as meningitis, encephalitis, and paralysis.

West Nile virus season extends into October in this county, so health officials say it’s important for residents to continue to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

This year, Stanislaus County Public Health has reported five cases of neuroinvasive West Nile virus; seven cases of West Nile fever; and three asymptomatic infections in blood donors. The age range of symptomatic cases was from 21 to 77 years old.

An additional 20 suspected cases of West Nile virus remain under investigation. The delay in finalizing these investigations is due to the detection of St. Louis encephalitis virus in the county’s mosquito population, requiring additional testing to differentiate between these infections.

West Nile virus is spread to humans primarily through bites by infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected by biting birds carrying the virus. The virus cannot be spread through person-to-person contact or directly from birds to humans.

There is no specific treatment for the disease. Health officials say recovery from the neuroinvasive form of the disease can take more than a year, with the potential for ongoing physical and mental impairment.

Residents can protect themselves and their families by following these simple steps:

Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR 3535, according to label instructions to keep mosquitoes from biting you. Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing.

DEET can be used safely on infants and children two months of age and older. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus tend to bite in the early morning and evening, so it’s important to wear repellent at these times.

Make sure that your doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep out mosquitoes, and repair or replace screens with tears or holes.

Wear clothing that reduces the risk of skin exposure to mosquito bites, such as long pants and long-sleeved shirts.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so eliminate all sources of standing water on your property, including unused flower pots, old car tires, rain gutters or pet bowls.

Neglected swimming pools also are prime for mosquito breeding. If you have a pond, use mosquito fish or commercially-available products to eliminate mosquito larvae.

The East Side and Turlock mosquito abatement districts are available to help with neglected pools. To request district service, call East Side at (209) 522-4098 or visit the web site at www.eastsidemosquito.com or call the Turlock district at (209) 634-1234 or visit the website at www.turlockmosquito.org.

Reporting and testing of dead birds also helps in locating areas needing treatment. To report a dead bird, call the West Nile virus dead bird and mosquito hotline at 1-877-WNV-BIRD, or submit a report online at www.westnile.ca.gov. Horse owners are also urged to consult their veterinarians about proper and timely West Nile virus vaccinations.