First West Nile Virus Death Reported in Los Angeles County

Los Angeles – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) has confirmed the first death due to West Nile virus (WNV) for the 2018 season in Los Angeles County. The patient, a resident of the San Fernando Valley area, was hospitalized in early September and died from WNV- associated neuro-invasive disease. A total of 38 cases have been documented in Los Angeles County this year (excluding Long Beach and Pasadena as cases identified in those cities are reported by their local health departments).

WNV is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito; mosquitoes become infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. Most mosquitoes do not carry the virus, therefore most people bitten by a mosquito are not exposed to WNV. The virus is not spread through person-to-person contact or directly from birds to humans. Persons over 50 years of age and those with chronic medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes are at increased risk of severe neuro-invasive disease from WNV infection that can result in infections of the brain, paralysis and even death. There is no specific treatment for this disease. For many, recovery from their illness can take a year or more with ongoing physical and mental problems.

WNV-infected mosquitoes, dead birds, and sentinel chickens have been identified across LA County. All county residents are encouraged to take protective action to prevent mosquito bites, especially as additional cases are expected to occur this year. Last year’s WNV season was the longest season on record extending until mid-December.

Public Health has documented persistently elevated numbers of WNV cases in LA county over the previous 5 years, at an average of 221 cases per year. Over three-quarters of reported cases have had severe disease and approximately 7% of patients with severe WNV have died from complications. In 2017, a record of 27 deaths were documented among LA County’s 268 cases. Reduction of mosquito breeding sources and protection from mosquito bites are key to prevention.

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