Third New Mexican dies from West Nile Virus

Staff and Wire Reports

SANTA FE — The West Nile Virus has claimed the life of a third New Mexican, a 76-year-old San Miguel County woman.
The state Health Department announced Thursday the woman died after being hospitalized for nearly three weeks with meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain that is a complication of West Nile Virus. Her name was not released.
The department said 49 cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been confirmed in New Mexicans since the first human case was reported in July. The cases have been found in 16 counties — including Roosevelt —with Sandoval County topping the list with six cases, followed by Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties with five each and Colfax County with four.
That’s six more cases than the count the department announced Wednesday. The latest cases included the woman who died; a 14-year-old boy and 56-year-old man in San Juan County; an 84-year-old Torrance County woman; a 46-year-old Bernalillo County man; and a 25-year-old Sandoval County woman.
All of them are cases of meningitis, the agency said.
Alwilda Cheney, 88, of Rio Rancho and Preston Lee Stone, 78, of Roswell — died earlier this month from complications of the virus.
To date, 28 of the New Mexico victims of the virus have had meningitis or encephalitis, an infection of the brain.
The elderly are at most risk for serious disease from West Nile Virus, health officials said.
In Texas, Bailey County now has 10 confirmed cases of West Nile in humans and 13 more suspected cases are awaiting the results of state testing, officials with Muleshoe Medical Center said.
“I can’t tell you why we are having such a problem in Bailey County,” said Dr. Bruce Purdy, chief of staff at the hospital. “Everybody coming in with a little bit of aches and fever thinks they’ve got West Nile and want to be tested.”
Purdy cautioned residents shouldn’t panic and said birds are in much greater danger from West Nile than humans.
Other counties in the area reported much smaller West Nile numbers. Parmer and Curry counties each have three confirmed cases and Roosevelt County has one.
Additional information on the Roosevelt County case has been unavailable.
Mosquito populations are starting to peak and health officials warn that the insects will be around for five to six more weeks, until the first frost.
The Health Department continues to recommend that New Mexicans avoid mosquitos by staying indoors at dawn and dusk, keeping doors and window shut if they don’t have screens, wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants and using insect repellant.
West Nile Virus causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches, said Mack Sewell, state epidemiologist.
‘‘If someone feels they have the flu and are feeling sick, they should see their health care provider,’’ he said.
Most mosquitoes do not carry the virus.
The odds of getting the virus are low, and only one in 150 infected people develops a severe case. Most have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
West Nile was first detected in New Mexico in August 2002 in horses in Quay and Curry counties.
Nationwide last year, West Nile infected 4,156 people and killed 284.