DICKINSON-North Dakota's first West Nile Virus-related death of 2018 was announced by the North Dakota Department of Health earlier this week, raising concerns about the virus in the state.

The unidentified man who died was in his 60s, resided in the northwest region of the state and may have had underlying health issues contributing to a greater risk of severe illness associated with West Nile Virus.

A majority of individuals infected with the West Nile Virus will experience no symptoms, according to Jenny Galbraith, the West Nile Virus surveillance epidemiologist with the state health department.

"Most people won't show symptoms at all, but some will have mild symptoms such as fever and headache," Galbraith said. "Only in the most rare instances do we see death."

To date, 148 human West Nile Virus cases have been reported across 28 different counties in North Dakota with 45 individuals hospitalized as a result.

"People older than 60 years, or those who have underlying health issues, are at the greatest risk of developing a severe illness due to West Nile infection. The individual's death is a tragic reminder of how dangerous West Nile Virus can be," said Galbraith. "The mosquitoes which carry West Nile in North Dakota are typically active between dusk and dawn, so limiting being outside during that time is best. Wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts, weather permitting, is a good protection against mosquitos in general."

Safeguards should continue to be taken until the first hard frost eliminates the remaining mosquitoes, Galbraith said.

"Avoid(ing) standing water, keep(ing) your grass around your home trimmed and making sure your screens are fully intact on your doors and windows are good initiative measures to avoid mosquito contact, and ultimately, the potential for West Nile," said Galbraith.

Medical professionals stand ready to handle patients suffering from the virus should the need arise, according to the state health department.

The CDC released a statement earlier in the month confirming that 45 states and the District of Columbia have reported the virus in people, birds or mosquitoes this year.

According to epidemiologists, the virus spreads to the nervous system in about one in 150 cases, making it both a relatively rare disease and potentially fatal.

West Nile fever often goes undiagnosed, according to the CDC. Patients seldom see a doctor unless it becomes severe, and doctors often treat the disease as a cold without running tests for West Nile.

Individuals showing symptoms of West Nile should seek out a health care provider immediately, informing their doctor of any recent contact with mosquitos.

According to the state health department, recommendations to avoid West Nile include:

  • Using a repellent, such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (or PMD), or permethrin. Apply according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Wearing protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirt and pants.
  • Limiting outdoor activity between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
  • Eliminating stagnant water in containers around homes, such as buckets, flowerpots, old tires, wading pools and birdbaths, where mosquitoes can lay eggs.
  • Keeping grass around your home trimmed.

For more information about the West Nile Virus in North Dakota visit www.ndhealth.gov/wnv/, or speak with your health care provider.