Doctor Patricia Quinlisk, the department’s medical director, says this is the first West Nile death in the state since 2010, and it comes as cases have spiked up.
“This year’s been a particularly bad year for West Nile — worse than it’s been in several years. We’ve had 30 plus confirmed cases in Iowa — which is about double the number we had this time last year,” Quinlisk says. The identity of person who died is kept confidential, but it is someone who is more than 80 years old.
“Typically older people are more likely to have symptoms with West Nile Virus, but 80 percent of people will have no symptoms at all, 20 percent will have mild symptoms, but it’s only about one percent who will get seriously ill. But certainly the elderly are at higher risk,” according to Quinlisk.
But doctor Quinlisk says you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking your age will keep you from getting West Nile. “We’ve had people get seriously sick with this — everything from babies, healthy young adults up to the elderly — so nobody is immune from having problems from this virus,” Quinlisk says. She says the increase in West Nile cases this year is due in part to better weather which leads to more exposure to mosquitoes who carry the virus.
“Particularly this year when we’ve had a pretty mild fall and still are having pretty warm weather, ” Quinlisk says, “it stands to reason that we might have more activity because the insects — the mosquitoes that carry West Nile — are most active at the very end of the summer and early fall. Which is when we’ve been having sort of abnormally warm weather.” Quinlisk says Iowans taking advantage of the warmer fall weather by spending more time outdoors, but they don’t take the precautions they’d take in summer.
She says it’s easy to remember to put on the insect repellent in the summer when there are more of the nuisance type mosquitoes buzzing about, but she says it’s more dangerous this time of year because the mosquitoes that carry West Nile are more active. She says there’s been some light frost already in parts of the state and that may’ve lulled people into thinking the mosquitoes threat is over. That’s not the case.
“You really have to have a very good hard frost,” Quinlisk explains. “A temperature that gets down very low and basically freezes every place that those mosquitoes could be hiding.” Until that hard frost hits, Quinlisk advises you to use insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, I-R-3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus when going outside. Always read the repellent label and consult with a health care provider if you have questions when using these types of products for children.
Since West Nile first appeared in Iowa in 2002, it has been found in every county in Iowa, either in humans, horses, or birds. The last death caused by West Nile virus was in 2010, and there were two deaths that year.
For more information about West Nile virus, visit the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.