State health officials say the West Nile virus has been confirmed as the cause of death for an 81-year-old woman from central Iowa. Department of Public Health deputy epidemiologist Ann Garvey says West Nile deaths have become rare. Garvey says this is the first West Nile death reported since 2008. She says there have also been five other cases of West Nile reported this year.
The virus is spread by mosquitoes, and while the number of cases and deaths from the virus have dropped dramatically, Dr. Garvey says you still need to be aware of the threat. “It’s here in Iowa and it’s here to stay…we do expect there will be activity every year,” Garvey says.
Garvey says you should continue to take precautions such as wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, using insect repellent, and dumping out any standing water to eliminate mosquito breeding sites around your home.
Garvey says anyone is at risk of being infected, but people over the age of 50 seem to be more likely to develop severe symptoms if they’re infected with West Nile. Garvey says you may’ve been infected without knowing it. She says about 80% of the people infected with the virus won’t show any signs, 20% will have symptoms like fever, headaches, body aches, nausea or vomiting. Only about one in 150 people develop a more severe illness that can end up being fatal.
West Nile first appeared in the state in 2002 with 52 cases, it peaked in 2003 with 147 cases and six deaths.
You can find out more about West Nile on the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.