West Nile claims first Delaware victim, a 76 year-old woman
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 03:09
A 76-year-old New Castle woman died Thursday from the mosquito- borne West Nile virus, according to Delaware’s Division of Public Health. This was the first West Nile-related death in the state this year.
While the Center for Disease Control states that this year marks the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported since the virus was detected in the U.S. in 1999, medical laboratory science professor Donald Lehman said college students should not be alarmed.
Lehman, who studies virology, said 80 percent of people who are infected with West Nile virus show no symptoms, while 25 to 20 percent experience fever, muscle aches and pain. Severe neurological symptoms occur in individuals 50 years or older, he said.
“As for younger college students, if they’re otherwise healthy, there’s not anything to worry about except flu-like symptoms,” Lehman said.
The New Castle woman had underlying health conditions, according to the DPH.
Lehman said West Nile virus is a vector-borne illness, meaning that mosquitoes feed on different species, first picking up the virus from birds, then transmitting it to humans. The virus is typically prevalent among birds and fairly rare in humans, he said.
Wildlife conservation professor Chris Williams said while deaths from West Nile virus in Delaware are not above average, people should still be aware of it.
“It is always happening, and is always a concern in human health,” Williams said.
Almost 2,000 cases have been reported in the United States this year. As of last week, 87 deaths have been reported to the CDC. There have been three human cases in Delaware, according to the DPH.
The CDC said almost 45 percent of all cases of West Nile death have occurred in Texas. Because of the increase in deaths in Texas, officials have ordered spraying operations to prevent further outbreak.
“If a human dies it ramps up the call for human safety,” Williams said.
Lehman said he thinks the increase in mosquito populations is due to a mild winter which allows more mosquito larvae to survive.
Graduate student Katy Handley said she is taking a class on medical and veterinary entomology, and her professor says overall it is not a bad year for West Nile virus, despite the outbreak in Texas.
“I’m not worried about it, and I work out in the field all the time,” Handley said.