Health

First West Nile death a reminder to be vigilant

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FAQ: Could this be a bad year for West Nile virus?

State health officials announced on Monday California's first death from West Nile virus this year. While it's unclear whether it is a harbinger of many more to come, health officials say the death is a reminder to be vigilant against the disease.

The fatal case was a senior citizen from Northern California. If past years are any indication, more fatal cases will follow. Over the past decade, there have been at least a handful of West Nile deaths each year. There were 20 in 2012, 15 in 2013, and last year 31 died from the disease.

There haven't been any other reported human cases of West Nile Virus so far this year. But earlier this month, health officials warned that West Nile activity is going up statewide. They said the drought could be contributing to the increase, as birds and mosquitoes come into contact as they seek out the same dwindling water sources.

Meanwhile, disease activity is either normal or lower in Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino. Activity is measured through positive testing in mosquitoes and dead birds.

Most people who contract West Nile never get sick. Some will have symptoms such as a fever or aches and pains. Less than one percent will develop a serious neurologic illness, and a small fraction of that group will die.

West Nile is transmitted through mosquito bites. States officials recommend that everyone going outdoors use insect repellent, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are more likely to bite. They also recommend eliminating sources of standing water, where mosquitoes tend to lay their eggs.