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Second person in L.A. County dies of West Nile virus

Mosquitoes

A second person in Los Angeles County has died of West Nile virus, and 54 cases of the illness have been reported locally, public health officials announced Tuesday.

The latest death prompted the county health department to renew warnings for people to take precautions and reduce their exposure to mosquitoes, which can transmit the virus through their bite.

Health officials said those who died were both adults in their 80s who lived in the southeastern part of the county. Their names were not released. People older than 50 and those with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for developing severe symptoms.

“While most people bitten by a mosquito are not exposed to West Nile virus, some individuals may become infected with this disease and may experience symptoms that can last for months, or even years, such as fatigue, malaise and depression,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's top health official.

Fielding said the first signs of the illness -- fever, headache, nausea, body aches and skin rashes -- can appear within three to 12 days after infection. The severe symptoms include meningitis and inflammation of the brain, which can lead to hospitalization. Recovery can take months to years, and some people may never fully recover.

Health officials said mosquitoes are infected with West Nile virus by feeding on birds that carry it, then they transmit it to humans. Horses are also susceptible to the virus, but there is a vaccination available for them; no vaccination exists for humans.

To date, vector control districts have detected the virus in 170 dead birds, five squirrels and 196 mosquito pools. Samples were found throughout the county.

“As the hot days continue, I urge all residents to protect themselves and their families and friends from mosquito bites by getting rid of stagnant water around their homes, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outdoors, and using a repellent in mosquito-prone areas, especially around dawn or dusk,” Fielding said.

Areas with high mosquito populations are being actively treated with pesticides. Nevertheless, health officials are urging residents to report dead birds by calling (877) 968-2473 or contacting the county health department’s website, http://publichealth.lacounty.gov. Stagnant pools can be reported to (626) 430-5200. More information about West Nile virus can be found online at http://westnile.ca.gov.

As of Sept. 25, West Nile infections in people, birds or mosquitoes have shown up in 48 states. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,545 cases of the illness in people, including 147 deaths, have been reported so far. Hardest hit has been Texas, where there have been at least 21 deaths out of almost 700 infections.

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-- Dan Weikel

Photo: File photo of mosquitoes captured for testing. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

 
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