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HomeNewsTennessee confirms Human West Nile Virus Death

Tennessee confirms Human West Nile Virus Death

People Urged to Take Precautions during Outdoor Activities

Tennessee Department of HealthNashville, TN – The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed the first death in Tennessee due to West Nile virus since 2009. The individual is a resident of Shelby County.

There have been 14 human cases of the illness in Tennessee so far this year. The Department of Health urges Tennesseans to continue to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites to protect themselves against West Nile virus.

“Our sympathy goes out to the family of the individual who has died from West Nile virus, and this case is a somber reminder of the threat posed by this illness,” said State Epidemiologist Tim F. Jones, MD. “Now that fall is here and the weather is cooling, Tennesseans may think mosquitoes are gone, but the insects are still active in our state. We want residents and visitors to continue to enjoy outdoor activities, but be vigilant in taking steps to protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites that could transmit the virus.”

Mosquito populations in Tennessee are at their peak May through October. There is no human vaccine for WNV; therefore, Tennesseans need to take preventive measures to avoid being bitten by infected mosquitoes.

The following tips will help reduce the risk of WNV infection:

  • Eliminate standing water near your home, which can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Many containers, even those as small as a bottle cap, can hold enough water for mosquitoes to breed.
  • Keep windows and doors closed or cover them with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering your home.
  • Use insect repellant containing either DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. Be sure to follow all product guidelines and age restrictions for use of repellants.
  • Most mosquitoes likely to transmit WNV bite at dusk and dawn, so avoid being outdoors at these times. If you must go outside during these times, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks to protect yourself.
  • For more extensive outdoor activity or overseas travel where other mosquito-borne illnesses are present, consider treating clothing with a product containing the insecticide permethrin. Permethrin is not to be used on skin.

“We have confirmed West Nile virus in mosquitoes across the state. All Tennesseans should take steps to protect themselves, particularly those who are at greater risk for the most serious forms of illness the virus can cause,” said State Medical Entomologist Abelardo Moncayo, Ph.D. “Most cases resulting in hospitalization are in people over the age of 50 and most cases resulting in death occur in people over 75 years of age.”

Tennessee is also seeing an increase in human West Nile virus cases this year. In 2010, a total of only four human cases were reported in the state. In 2009, eight human cases were reported in Tennessee including one fatal case.

Most human WNV infections are very mild and may produce no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may include fever, head and body aches, and usually last only a few days. WNV can occasionally cause a brain infection in humans. Severe infections, which occur in less than one percent of human cases, may cause meningitis or encephalitis and result in high fever, neck stiffness, stupor or disorientation. Severe cases may also cause muscle weakness, paralysis or death. The virus cannot be spread from one person to another.

Horses can also be infected with West Nile virus. Tennessee has had three confirmed cases of WNV in horses so far this year, and had a total of three in 2010. Horse owners should be sure their animals are current on vaccinations for WNV as well as for eastern equine encephalitis, which is also carried by mosquitoes.

For more information on West Nile virus, visit the Tennessee Department of Health website.


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