SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A woman has died due to the West Nile Virus, the first known fatality of the 2021 season, the state Department of Health reported Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The woman was a 42-year-old resident of Union County, state health officials confirmed. The woman's name was Melissa Sievers, and she was a long-time producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, according to an Aug. 27 Argus Leader report. Her husband said her death by the virus was complicated by lymphoma, the newspaper reported.

South Dakota has now had 47 fatalities from West Nile Virus since its first appearance in the state 20 years ago. So far this season, 24 states have reported West Nile Virus cases and four have reported a total of six fatalities. Sievers is the seventh known fatality from the virus nationwide this season.

South Dakota has historically had a disproportionately high number of West Nile Virus cases compared to other states, the state Department of Health pointed out on Wednesday.

“We are encouraging residents to take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting West Nile Virus. Simple, yet key mitigation strategies, like avoiding areas with sitting water and evening outdoor activities during mosquito season, can reduce risk,” said Daniel Bucheli, Department of Health spokesman, in the news release.

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Those most at risk from WNV include residents over 50, pregnant women, organ transplant patients, individuals with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease, and those with a history of alcohol abuse. People with severe or unusual headaches should see their physicians as soon as symptoms begin, the Department of Health recommends.

The state Department of Health recommends residents take the following actions to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of getting West Nile Virus with the following precautions:

  • Apply mosquito repellents (DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus 2-undecanone, param-menthane-diol, or IR3535) to clothes and exposed skin. Limit exposure by wearing pants and long sleeves in the evening;
  • Limit time outdoors from dusk to midnight when mosquitoes are most active. The mosquito species Culex tarsalis are the primary carrier of West Nile virus in South Dakota;
  • Remove standing water that gives mosquitoes a place to breed. Regularly change water in bird baths, outside pet dishes, and drain water from other flowerpots and garden containers and stay away from areas near standing water;
  • Support local mosquito control efforts.

For more information on West Nile virus and prevention steps, visit the Department of Health's website, DOH.SD.GOV.