An east Pierce County man has recovered after he contracted West Nile Virus during a recent trip to California. The man in his 20s became ill on July 8 with a headache, body ache, and a stiff neck—symptoms consistent with the virus. He did not go to the hospital. This is the year’s first case of West Nile Virus in a Washington resident.
The man discovered he had a mild form of the virus after he donated blood in California. After the donation, the blood center screened the man’s blood and told him he had the virus. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department received this information on July 18.
“This is a great example of the health system taking precautions to protect the public from harmful diseases,” said Nigel Turner, Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health Communicable Disease division director. “Cases of West Nile Virus in people, animals, and insects tend to go up this time of year nationally,” Turner said.
Typically, West Nile Virus is not active in Pierce County. The last time the Health Department reported people contracted the virus in the county was in 2006. A bird in the county tested positive for the virus in 2009. The last time a county resident got the virus outside Pierce County was in 2014. Despite the lack of virus activity in Pierce County, the Health Department wants residents to take precautions because of the potential complications.
What is West Nile Virus?
Originally from Africa, the first cases of the virus were reported in North America in 1999. Infected mosquitos spread the virus to people.
What are the symptoms?
Most people infected with West Nile Virus—about four out of five—will not get sick. About one in five people may develop West Nile Fever, which may cause:
- Head and body aches.
- Swollen lymph glands.
- In some cases, a skin rash.
Most people with West Nile Fever recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.
Less than 1% of those infected with West Nile Virus will develop the most severe type of West Nile Fever called neuroinvasive disease because it affects the nervous system. Symptoms include:
- High fever.
- Neck stiffness.
People over the age of 50 and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk of the severe fever. Recovery may take several weeks or months. Some of the neurologic effects may be permanent. About 10% of people who develop neurologic infection because of West Nile Virus die.
How can you prevent it?
A vaccine for West Nile Virus does not exist. To prevent the virus, avoid bites from infected mosquitos:
- Make sure window and door screens keep bugs out.
- Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active.
- Wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat when going into mosquito-infested areas, such as wetlands or woodlands.
- Consider mosquito repellent products with the active ingredient DEET.
Mosquitos breed in stagnant, standing fresh water. To reduce mosquito breeding areas where you live and work:
- Remove water from containers, such as wheelbarrows, old tires, and buckets.
- Change water in birdbaths, fountains, wading pools, and animal troughs weekly.
- Make sure roof gutters drain properly; clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
Learn more about West Nile Virus at www.tpchd.org/WNV.