West Nile virus: Rare but potentially deadly

By Pat Jenkins

The Dispatch

A case of West Nile virus in Pierce County – rare but potentially deadly – has ended on a happy note.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported July 20 that a resident of the county has recovered after he contracted the virus during a recent trip to California. The man became ill on July 8 with a headache, body aches and a stiff neck—symptoms consistent with the virus. He didn’t go to the hospital, officials said.

It’s the first reported case of West Nile in a Washington resident this year and is believed to be the first one in Pierce County in 11 years.

In keeping with privacy rules, health authorities didn’t release the name or community of the virus sufferer. They said only that he’s in his 20s and lives in the east Pierce County area.

The man discovered he had a mild form of West Nile after he donated blood in California, where the blood center screened his blood and told him he had the virus. That information was given to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department on July 18, a department spokeswoman said.

“This is a great example of the health system taking precautions to protect the public from harmful diseases,” said Nigel Turner, the director of the department’s communicable disease division.

Infected mosquitos spread West Nile to people and animals through bites.

“Cases in people, animals and insects tend to go up this time of year nationally,” Turner said.

Some neurologic effects of the illness may be permanent, and about 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection from the West Nile virus eventually die.

According to the Health Department, West Nile isn’t active in Pierce County. The last time the department reported people contracted the virus in the county was in 2006, and until the recent case, the last time a county resident got the virus outside Pierce County was in 2014. Also, a bird in the county tested positive for the virus in 2009.

Despite the relative rareness of the virus here, residents should take precautions because of the potential medical complications if they get it, officials said.

To ward off potentially infected mosquitos, the advice includes:

• Have secure screens on window and doors.

• Stay indoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitos are most active.

• Wear a long-sleeve shirt, pants, and a hat in any mosquito-infested areas, such as wetlands or woodlands.

• Use mosquito repellent with the active ingredient DEET.

• Remove any stagnant, standing fresh water in which mosquitos can breed. Among other steps, change water in birdbaths, fountains, wading pools and animal troughs weekly, and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall to ensure they drain properly.


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