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West Nile linked to man’s death

GLENDALE — The first West Nile virus-related death in Los Angeles County and the discovery in Burbank of a bird carrying the virus have area health officials keeping a close eye on the virus.

A man infected with West Nile virus died earlier this month, possibly marking the first death caused by the virus this year, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced Friday.

The San Fernando Valley resident, who was more than 80 years old and had several chronic medical problems, died in early August after a brief hospitalization, department spokeswoman Rachel Tyree said. No other information identifying the man could be disclosed, she said.

It took officials several days for health officials to confirm the man had the virus, Tyree said.

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Though the man was infected, it was not known whether the virus caused his death, Tyree said. But it would be the first fatality in Los Angeles County caused by West Nile virus this year if confirmed, she said.

Reports of West Nile cases have been generating from the same places — Granada Hills, Panorama City and Van Nuys, said Truc Dever, spokeswoman for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District.

A dead bird carrying the virus was collected in Burbank on Aug. 13 and confirmed to have the virus Thursday, said Minoo Madon, technical services director for the vector control district. The bird, a crow, was found in the 91505 ZIP code in the Naomi Street area, Madon said.

But where the bird was found is less important than where the bird contracted the virus, he said.

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West Nile virus is transmitted mostly through southern house mosquitoes, which are common in large urban areas like Los Angeles, he said. They can be found anywhere with stagnant water choked with vegetation, which protects mosquito breeding, he said.

American crows can travel up to 40 miles while foraging, Madon said, which makes determining the location of the source of the disease difficult.

“It’s very hard to determine where that bird was infected,” he said.

The number of mosquito pools — or samples of mosquitoes found in traps — testing positive for West Nile in the vector control district have grown from six on July 12 to 43 as of Friday, Dever said.

People should exercise caution, she said.

“Everybody in the Los Angeles basin is at risk because it is here,” Dever said. “Residents should continue to take precaution to protect themselves. Whether you live in Glendale or elsewhere ... we should all take precaution when we’re outdoors.”

Health officials in Glendale noted the news as a cause of concern, but also said 2007 has been quiet in terms of West Nile.

None of the three Glendale hospitals has reported cases of West Nile virus this year, officials from those hospitals said.

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“We’re considering it to be a good year,” said Dr. Elizabeth Maslow, infectious disease chairman at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

But people should still take preventive measures, she said — wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants outdoors, avoiding mosquito-infected areas at dawn or dusk, clean and chlorinate swimming pools and using mosquito repellents containing DEET.

Most infected people do not feel any symptoms, Maslow said.

Occasionally, someone could start feeling persistent and lingering flu-like symptoms, rashes, weakness, aches and pains after getting a mosquito bite, she said. They should see a doctor or physician in that case, she said.

“If they have flu-like syndrome that just wasn’t going away, especially if they have a lot of mosquito bites,” she said.

There is no treatment for the disease, Maslow said, but most people recover from it unless they have serious preexisting illness.

She treated three patients three years ago, but all three died of the disease, she said.

Verdugo Hills Hospital spokeswoman Celine Petrossian said no cases were reported at the hospital, but they are ready for any reported cases.

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“Our laboratory has a direct link with the [Center for Disease Control],” she said. “So we would take the lab results, then go directly to the [Center for Disease Control], then they determine the cause and look for a source.”

Glendale Memorial Hospital is also keeping an eye on developments, spokeswoman Pamela Pollock said.

WEST NILE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The virus is a serious illness that humans can contract when bitten by an infected mosquito.

Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. Infected mosquitoes can then spread West Nile to humans and other animals when they bite.

The virus can also be spread through blood transfusions, transplants and mother-to-child transmission.

It cannot be spread through casual contact or kissing a person with the virus.

(From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

 Avoid mosquito-infested areas at dawn and dusk.

 Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when going outdoors.

 Use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus, as instructed.

Ensure window screens do not have holes.

Do not allow water to stagnate in old tires, flowerpots, swimming pools, birdbaths, pet bowls and other receptacles because they are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Clean and chlorinate swimming pools and drain water from pool covers.

 Stock garden ponds with goldfish or mosquito fish, which feed on mosquito eggs and larvae.

 Empty and wash birdbaths and wading pools weekly.

(From the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health)


 ANTHONY KIM covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at anthony.h.kim@latimes.com.


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