A woman in her 60s is the first San Joaquin County resident to die this year after it was discovered that she had contracted West Nile Virus.
The San Joaquin County Department of Public Health Services issued a bulletin on Friday after the woman, who lived in the rural northern portion of the county, passed away after become ill earlier this week. She is the eighth person in the county to contract the disease – a virus that is found in reservoir hosts like birds and then transmitted by vectors like mosquitoes that bite the infected birds and then eventually the humans. It has been a health concern since it first arrived in the United States almost two decades ago.
The woman, whose name was not released, could have been more susceptible to the disease’s symptoms because of her age. It is something that health officials warn against if seniors or the extremely young are going to be outdoors when mosquito populations are extremely active.
The San Joaquin Mosquito and Vector Control District has been employing an aggressive spraying campaign this summer after early season tests showed traces of the virus much earlier than ever before on record. Experts attribute that to at least partially the unusually balmy winter months that typically give populations and residents a break from the pesky mosquitoes
But just because the weather is cooling down doesn’t mean that you should ignore the basic health warnings that are suggested as a form of first-line protection against West Nile Virus and other communicable diseases that travel through vectors searching for a blood meal.
According to the California Department of Public Health, people can protect themselves by following the basic guidelines:
• Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors during active mosquito biting times – typically at dawn and at dusk.
• Making sure that doors and windows are outfitted with tight-fitting screens and replacing those that may be torn or frayed.
• Applying insect repellants with EPA-registered ingredients such as DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and/or oil of lemon eucalyptus (PMD).
• Removing any standing water – buckets, flower pots, old tires – that serve as reservoirs for mosquito breeding.
A bird containing West Nile Virus was first discovered this year in March on a dairy in Tracy – the earliest that it has been detected in this area since it first arrived back in 2004. Birds serve as the reservoir for the disease, and mosquitoes that bite them then transmit the disease to humans. So far 20 have been reported in San Joaquin County, as of July 14.
As many as 80 percent of the people that become affected by West Nile Virus are asymptomatic – they show no signs or symptoms – but it can be deadly for children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system. Last year a Stockton man was diagnosed with the disease when he was admitted to a local hospital for an unrelated condition in June, and an 83-year-old woman died in August from illness that was attributed to West Nile Virus. Only one of last year’s eight cases was deadly – the same numbers currently on record for 2014.