GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - On the same day of a confirmed case of West Nile virus in a Kent County man, a woman in Washtenaw County died in what health officials are calling the first fatal case of the disease in Michigan this year.
The Washtenaw County woman was between the ages of 75 and 85 years old, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. She first was hospitalized earlier this month for viral meningitis.
The confirmed Kent County case involves a 68-year-old man.
There are two other highly-probable cases in Kent County, which involve a 67-year-old man and a 59-year-old woman. Officials are waiting for follow-up tests to be completed for a final diagnosis.
All three Kent County patients required hospitalization and are recovering, according to a news release. The man confirmed to have contracted the illness is now recovering at home.
"We are very concerned about West Nile virus after a mild winter and hot summer," said Cathy Raevsky, the administrative health officer for the Kent County Health Department. "The disease can have severe complications in people over the age of 50 or in those who are already suffering from other medical conditions."
This year, Michigan has seen 24 cases of West Nile viruses. These are the most cases in the state through the second week of August since 2002, according to the MDCH.
Thirty-four people in Michigan contracted the illness last year, resulting in two deaths, according to the MDCH.
Two cases were confirmed in Kent County between 2009 and 2011.
When WNV first hit Kent County in 2002, it was considered an epidemic, with 60 cases and four deaths.
The sudden uptick across the state and the three cases Thursday are drawing concerns that the illness could become more prevalent quickly.
"We do worry about that, and we're on standby. We're waiting to see what happens," said Kent County Health Department spokesperson Lisa LaPlante.
A case of West Nile virus in an Allegan County resident has been reported this week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A horse in Montcalm County was confirmed Wednesday to have the first West Nile virus case in a horse in Michigan in 2012. There is a West Nile virus vaccine for horses, but not for humans.
- The West Nile virus was first appeared in West Michigan 10 years ago
- In 2002, there were four deaths in Kent County and 57 cases -- the third hardest-hit county in Michigan
- Also in 2002, 51 people died in Michigan from 644 cases, making the state the fifth hardest-hit in the US
Forty-three states have reported West Nile virus infections so far this year, according to the CDC.
The CDC says 693 cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed in people across the US through the second week in August -- the highest number of WNV cases reported to the organization during the same period since the virus was first detected in the United States in 1999.
Nationwide, 26 deaths have been attributed to WNV this year.
West Nile virus is spread by infected mosquitoes and it appears the drought hasn't hurt this year's population.
"One of the problems we are seeing is, because we had a very mild winter and warm spring and a very hot summer, the mosquito population is going to climb, especially now that we've had more rain," said LaPlante.
August and September are when humans in Michigan are most likely to contract WNV, according to the MDCH, because that is when mosquitoes are older and more likely to carry it.
Most people bitten by a mosquito carrying WNV don't show any symptoms. When illness does occur, symptoms usually manifest between three and 15 days after being bitten, according to the MDCH.
Symptoms typically present like the flu, LaPlante said.
"You'll see people who have fevers, headaches, aches and pains. But it can also lead to neurological issues and even in the most severe cases you'll see coma, possibly death," said LaPlante.
Milder symptoms are fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last for as short as a few days, though even healthy people have become sick for several weeks.
Severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
West Nile virus can also cause neurological illnesses like meningitis and encephalitis that may lead to death.
Health officials say that though anyone can contract WNV, it hits the very young and the elderly hardest.
"If you do know of an older adult, make sure that they know what the complications can be, especially if they are suffering from a medical condition already. You want to make sure that they're protected," said LaPlante.
The county health department recommends wearing bug repellant and eliminating the mosquito's breeding grounds to help prevent the illness.
you have anything in your back yard that collects water, make sure that you're draining the water," said LaPlante. "Things like swimming pools, bird baths, tires, even an upside-down frisbee can collect water and become a great breeding ground for mosquitoes."
Measures to prevent WNV, provided by the MDCH:
- Maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes out of buildings.
- Empty water from mosquito breeding sites such as buckets, unused kiddie pools, old tires or similar sites where mosquitoes lay eggs.
- Apply insect repellents that contain the active ingredient DEET, or other EPA approved repellent to exposed skin or clothing, especially during peak mosquito activity periods such as dusk and dawn.
- Wear light colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors.
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