California's First Human Case of West Nile Virus This Year Confirmed

The first human case of West Nile virus infection in the state was confirmed today. The victim, a 70-year-old woman from Kern County, was hospitalized but is recovering, said Dr. Ron Chapman, a state health officer and director of the California Department of Health.

The woman's symptoms were consistent with West Nile fever. Kern County officials say awareness campaigns, which describe symptoms of the virus, reminded the woman to tell her doctor that a mosquito had bitten her on the leg.

"The patient's knowledge of [West Nile Virus] from educational campaigns by the Kern County Public Health Services Department led to the rapid identification of her infection, said Dr. Claudia Jonah, a public health officer for Kern County.

Education campaigns also focus on the "3 D's" of prevention to help stop the transmission of West Nile virus. They include:

  • Dump/Drain: Eliminate standing water on property because that's where mosquitoes breed.
  • Dusk/Dawn: Avoid outdoor activities when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Deet: Wear EPA-registered insect repellent (Deet) and/or long-sleeve shirts and pants when outdoors. Use properly-fitted screens free from tears on windows and doors around your home.

Symptoms of the virus can include body aches, diarrhea, headaches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. People who develop the illness and show symptoms typically begin feeling ill between 5 to 15 days after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus.

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The West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk of acute illness is low for most people.

"We figure that about 80 percent won't have any symptoms at all," said Director of Kern County Public Health Disease Control Denise Smith, who also noted that the majority who do become ill have flu-like symptoms.

However, some individuals can develop much more serious problems, such as neurological illnesses like encephalitis or meningitis. Those who suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and are over who are over the age of 50 are at higher risk of developing complications.

"Last year in Kern County we had 18 cases of West Nile Virus and three individuals died," said Smith.

This year West Nile virus has been detected in 15 different California counties.

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