News Release

August 19, 2002


HDHHS reports first death due to probable West Nile infection

A 52-year-old Houston woman died Friday, August 16, of probable West Nile Virus infection.

According to information reported to the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, the woman developed symptoms of infection August 7 and died at a local hospital while receiving supportive therapy.

Preliminary tests conducted by the department earlier this month revealed the woman had a probable case of West Nile Virus infection. Specimens have been submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

West Nile virus infection, in severe cases, can develop into encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Still, the probabilities of becoming severely ill or dying are extremely low; the CDC estimates that less than 1 percent of people bitten by a mosquito with the virus will become infected and get severely ill. Severe West Nile Virus infection is fatal in 3 percent to 15 percent of the cases.

Most people infected with the virus experience mild illness with symptoms that include fever, headache, and body aches and occasionally skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Severe infections can cause high fever, headache, stiff neck, disorientation, coma, tremors, muscle weakness and paralysis.

Mosquitoes become vectors of the virus after feeding on infected birds. The infected mosquitoes transmit the virus when feeding on the blood of people and animals.

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