SAN DIEGO — A 78-year-old La Mesa man who died two weeks ago was the first person in the region to die of West Nile virus in seven years, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency announced Friday.
The man, whose name was not provided, was admitted to a local hospital Oct. 6 after experiencing symptoms of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can be caused by viral or bacterial infection, according to the HHSA.
The man died four days later and subsequent testing in a state laboratory confirmed he contracted West Nile virus.
The man’s daughter told 10News Thursday that doctors informed her a few days later that he had the disease. She said her father had complained about being bitten by mosquitos.
County health officials, however, said they wanted to confirm the diagnosis at the state lab before going public with the man’s cause of death.
The human case of West Nile virus, spread by mosquito bites, is the seventh in San Diego County this year and the first fatality since 2007.
Only two human cases occurred in the county between 2009 and 2013, both happening in 2012, according to HHSA data. In 2008, 36 such cases were reported.
“The calendar might say that we are past the peak West Nile virus season of August and September, but it is clear that this potentially deadly disease is still active in our community,” said Dr. Bruce Haynes, the medical director of county Emergency Medical Services.
Of those who become infected with West Nile virus, 80 percent will have no symptoms, according to county health officials. About one in five people who are infected will develop only a mild illness that includes a headache, fever, nausea, fatigue, skin rash or swollen glands.
One in 150 will suffer serious neurologic complications that can become life-threatening. The risk of complications increases for those over age 50, and for people with weakened immune systems.
County officials urged people to prevent mosquito breeding by draining or removing backyard items that can hold water, such as plant saucers, rain gutters, buckets, garbage cans, toys, old tires and wheelbarrows.
Mosquito fish, available for free from county Vector Control, can be used to control breeding of the insect in water sources such as neglected swimming pools, ponds, fountains and water troughs.
Window and door screens should also be checked to make sure they are in good condition and secured.
Dead crows, ravens, jays, hawks and owls that don’t show an obvious cause of death can be reported to Vector Control at (858) 694-2888.
Vector Control also will take reports on neglected swimming pools, which mosquitoes use for breeding.