West Nile virus cases spike; local woman hospitalizedA local woman infected with West Nile virus has been hospitalized for more than two weeks, according to a Mitchell doctor.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A local woman infected with West Nile virus has been hospitalized for more than two weeks, according to a Mitchell doctor.
The woman, whose name was not released, is just one of several local people showing symptoms of West Nile, which is at its peak in August, according to Dr. Pat Malters.
“We had a really bad case, somebody who never goes outside,” Malters said.
The woman went to a ballgame in July and was apparently bitten. The woman is “really, really sick,” the doctor said. She has since been transferred to another hospital for additional care. It was not disclosed if the woman is suffering from encephalitis or meningitis, the two most potent diseases affiliated with WNV.
Nine other people complaining of low-grade fever and headaches have come to the hospital and were determined to have the virus, Malters said. At least three have been hospitalized.
“We just got done doing some new reporting to the state because of the new cases we have been seeing within 60 miles around Mitchell,” she said Wednesday.
Malters said there have been 20 cases reported in area counties in the past two and a half weeks. West Nile virus is transmitted when a person or animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.
Forty-one human cases have been reported in the state as of Tuesday, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. There were two in all of 2011.
There has been one confirmed case in Davison County, and cases reported in several area counties, including Hanson, Aurora, Sanborn and Hutchinson.
“The risk is obviously higher this year,” said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, epidemiologist for the South Dakota Department of Health.
“What’s tricky is we’re having a drought year and there are not as many mosquitoes overall,” Kightlinger said. “There’s fewer of them, but they’re more infectious; people are being lulled into a sense of complacency.”
There has been one death linked to West Nile virus in the state so far this year, according to Kightlinger. A person in Hughes County died this summer. It’s the first West Nile death in South Dakota since 2007, when six people died of it.
Nationally, there have been 26 deaths tied to WNV this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 14 in Texas alone.
Malters said there are several reasons for the spike in reported cases locally.
“Number one, everybody’s got their guard down,” she said. “We are seeing the number of mosquitoes down.”
People are not seeing reports of cases in the news, Malters said, and there were few cases in 2011. Health officials were also lulled to sleep a bit, Malters said, but that has changed.
Malters said current conditions make more cases possible.
“Boy, it’s just ripe,” she said.
If people feel they have become infected with WNV, free blood tests are being offered, Malters said.
She said people should call their doctor or go to acute care or the hospital emergency room for a free test.
Malters is an internal medicine specialist who is the chairwoman of the Avera Queen of Peace Quality Care Committee.
“We just want people to be hyper-alert and aware of this problem,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people typically develop symptoms between three and 14 days after they are bitten by an infected mosquito.
Brown County in northeast South Dakota has been the hot spot for West Nile virus in the state, with 16 people diagnosed with the disease, three blood donors determined to have it in their system and 29 pools of water with WNV-carrying mosquitoes.
There have been 56 pools of water that tested positive for WNV so far this season in South Dakota as of Tuesday.
But there is no indication the WNV-carrying mosquitoes have arrived in Mitchell in any great numbers.
Mitchell Parks and Recreation Director Dusty Rodiek said the city has not fogged for mosquitoes this summer and probably will not do so.
“The numbers are nearly non-existent out there,” Rodiek said. “We’re nowhere near our threshold for our normal spraying counts.”
He said the city checks mosquito traps daily to determine if the number of the flying bloodsuckers has increased. It has not.
The lack of standing water and the dry conditions all summer are the primary reasons, Rodiek said.
Culex tarsalis, the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus, thrive in hot, dry conditions, Kightlinger said.
They can breed in mucky water, such as what is found in half-dried up sloughs. Only a small amount of water is required to make them active and send them in search of blood.
Kightlinger said there has been a “cluster” of cases in eastern South Dakota as well as in southeast North Dakota, western Minnesota and eastern Nebraska.
Aberdeen, Huron and Mitchell, all located in the James River Valley, typically have high WNV counts, he said.
All three are located along flat land, where water can pool, and have the river and creeks flowing in and near them, Kightlinger said. South Dakota State University researchers have said Brown County, which has Aberdeen as a county seat, is a virtual laboratory for West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes, he said.
That is despite efforts to control WNV there, Kightlinger said.
“They have a great mosquito control program in Aberdeen,” he said.
The West Nile season, which lasts from June through September, peaks in August.
It rarely becomes serious, although in 2003, there were 1,039 cases reported in the state and 14 deaths.
“Less than 1 percent develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues),” according to the CDC.
People 50 and older and those with cancer, kidney disease, diabetes or those who have had organ transplants are particularly vulnerable. Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.
“Anybody can get the disease; we’ve had all ages,” Kightlinger said.
But he said the elderly are especially vulnerable. The person who died of WNV encephalitis was between 80 and 89 years old. The state Department of Health does not identify West Nile victims by name.
For more on the West Nile virus in South Dakota, go online to doh.sd.gov/WestNile.