First two West Nile virus deaths reported this year in Los Angeles County

Health officials have confirmed this year’s first two deaths from West Nile virus in Los Angeles County and are calling on all residents to remain vigilant during peak mosquito season in Southern California.

Two men, both from the San Fernando Valley, were hospitalized in August and died from West Nile-associated encephalitis, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The department described the men as elderly but did not release their names, ages or other identifying information.

September has been the peak month for human West Nile virus infections in recent years, officials noted, with cases continuing into November.

There have been 68 documented infections in the county this year — a higher number than last year, officials said. Those infected have ranged in age from 17 to 91, with a median age of 63.

Across the state, 108 people have been infected with the virus this year, and four have died.

“This serves as a warning that West Nile virus is a serious disease that may lead to hospitalization and can even result in death,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer, who cautioned that older adults and those with weak immune systems also have the highest risk of serious infections and neuroinvasive diseases such as meningitis, encephalitis and paralysis.

Last year, 300 West Nile infections were reported in Los Angeles County, the highest in more than a decade, according to the county health department. Twenty-four of those who showed symptoms and were reported to the county died.

West Nile virus is spread to humans primarily through bites by infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes becomes infected by biting birds carrying the virus. The virus cannot be spread through person-to-person contact or directly from birds to humans.

There is no specific treatment for the disease, officials said, and recovery can take more than a year, with ongoing physical and mental impairment.

Most people who become infected, however,  have mild symptoms — fever, headache, nausea, a mild skin rash — or none at all. In 80% of cases, people infected with the virus never become sick, officials said. 

No human cases of West Nile Virus have been identified this year in Long Beach, which has its own health department. Officials there have suggested that residents take such precautions as getting rid of pools of stagnant water, emptying and washing birdbaths and wading pools weekly, using insect repellents containing DEET when outdoors and making sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens.

For those with questions or concerns, the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District can be reached at (562) 944-9656.

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @RosannaXia 

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