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State's First 2012 West Nile Virus Fatality Reported

Contact: Angela Minicuci (517) 241-2112

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 16, 2012

LANSING - Michigan health officials are reporting that a Washtenaw County woman who was hospitalized with viral meningitis is the state's first human West Nile Virus (WNV) death this year. The previously healthy woman between ages 75 and 85 was hospitalized earlier this month after showing symptoms and has since passed away. WNV can cause serious neurological illnesses, such as meningitis and encephalitis and can have long-term health consequences.

"With the virus appearing earlier this year than it has in recent years, we want to remind residents to take the appropriate precautions to avoid getting bitten," said Dr. Corinne Miller, State Epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Human WNV cases are on the rise both nationally and in Michigan. Thus far in 2012, a total of 693 cases of WNV disease in people, including 26 deaths, have been reported to the CDC. This is the highest number of WNV cases reported to the CDC through the second week in August since 1999, when the virus was first detected in the United States.

For Michigan, a total of 24 cases and one death have been reported for the same time period. Those infected range in age from 18 to 84, with the average being 55. WNV appeared in birds and mosquitoes in Michigan in 2001 and in humans in 2002. This is the highest number of human cases reported for Michigan through the second week of August since 2002.

WNV activity is widespread in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. Reports of human cases are increasing, and the risk for virus transmission will remain extremely high throughout the summer and fall. Last year, WNV was responsible for 34 serious illnesses and two fatalities in Michigan.

"The unusually hot and dry summer has favored the mosquitoes that transmit WNV. These same conditions have led to a reduction in the number of "nuisance" mosquitoes which are more abundant during wet summers, giving citizens a false sense of security," said Dr. Miller.

WNV carrying mosquitoes breed in small collections of stagnant water, are common around people's homes and often bite people indoors. While few mosquitoes may be noticed outdoors, those that are present and biting are likely to be the type that potentially carry WNV.

The months of August and September are when most human cases of WNV occur in Michigan. The end of summer is when mosquitoes are older and more likely to carry the virus. The types of mosquitoes that transmit the virus bite during evening and nighttime hours.

Most people bitten by a WNV-infected mosquito show no symptoms of illness. However, some become sick three to 15 days after exposure. People 50 and older are more susceptible to severe WNV disease symptoms.

Physicians are urged to test patients for WNV if they present with fever and signs of meningitis or encephalitis, or sudden painless paralysis in the absence of stroke in the summer months.

Michigan residents are encouraged to take the following steps to avoid WNV: 

  • 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.

For more information and surveillance activity updates about WNV, visit the state's Emerging Diseases website at www.michigan.gov/westnilevirus or the CDC's WNV website at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm.

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