Confirmed: State's first West Nile Virus death

Posted at 7:18 AM, Sep 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-16 07:18:18-04

Two-year-old Brandon loves being outside, but he's also highly allergic to mosquito bites.

"In about a few minutes we're actually all heading in so we don't get bit up tonight," said Tina Smith.

The Dundalk woman is even more concerned because Baltimore County health officials say an older person in the area is the first in the state to die from West Nile Virus.  Family members and neighbors tell ABC 2 News it was a 75-year-old woman who went from being perfectly healthy to barely being able to walk.

"I said hi to her and was talking to her, and then two days later she was in the hospital,” Smith said.

The woman died from West Nile Virus September 8.

It's easy to become infected; all you need is to be bit by an infected mosquito.  And while about 80% of people infected won't have any symptoms, the illness can kill.  Health officials say so far in 2015 there have been 29 cases of the mosquito-borne illness, many more than the six statewide last year.        

West Nile virus is rarely deadly, but people 50 and older have the greatest risk of developing a severe disease.

"There's a very, very small percentage that have what we consider neurological concerns,” said Dr. Gregory Branch, Director of the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services said.  “And that person can develop meningitis, that person can develop encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain and the tissues around the brain, those people are at risk for dying."

Loved ones say that's exactly what happened to the Dundalk woman who passed away.

Mosquito control was out Tuesday night spraying for the bugs.  State Agriculture crews say it's been a wet and brutal season.

"We've had a very quick explosion of mosquito and they do start out in the water," said Mosquito Control Technician Joann Sentz

West Nile Virus has been detected in 17 mosquito pools in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.  Spraying is planned for the rest of this week to try and stop future infections.      

Family members of the virus's first victim say they just want to warn people to protect themselves.           

"She was a sweet lady,” said Smith.  “It's just shocking how quick it happened and how close to home it happened."

Late last month, another Baltimore County resident infected with West Nile Virus died, but officials say it wasn't due to the illness.

If you think you may be sick with West Nile, call your doctor.

From Baltimore County health officials:

Residents are urged to monitor their own yards and gardens for standing water that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Small amounts of water in a discarded can or container can support dozens of mosquitoes. To eliminate mosquito-breeding areas:

• Clean rain gutters to allow water to flow freely.
• Empty or screen corrugated drain pipes. 
• Remove old tires or drill drainage holes in tires used as playground equipment.
• Turn over wading pools, wheelbarrows, wagons and carts when not in use. Flush water from the bottom of plant holders twice a week.
• Replace water in birdbaths at least twice a week.
• Turn garbage cans’ lids upside down and make sure trash receptacles are empty of water.
• Fix dripping faucets.
• Aerate ornamental pools and water gardens or stock with fish, and use a circulating filter system.

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