County man dies of West Nile

A Navajo County man in his 40s died of West Nile Virus (WNV) late last month.

The man, who has not been identified, contracted the disease through tainted blood received in a transfusion, according to Blood Systems officials. He received two units of blood before undergoing surgery in Phoenix.

Although the blood bank that supplied the blood has not been named, the two donors’ blood has been retested. One came back positive for WNV, and one did not. Both donors are reportedly from the West Valley area.

When the blood was donated in June, Blood Systems was testing in batches of 16 units together. Had the firm been testing individually, the virus reportedly could have been detected. Blood from the positive donor is being withdrawn from circulation.

Six cases of WNV were caused by blood transfusions in the United States last year, so the incident is very rare.

The man has not been identified by exact age, residence location or name. State officials are not releasing that information to protect the privacy of his family.

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) also reported that three squirrels in the Show Low area have tested positive for the virus.

These cases further indicate that there is WNV present in Navajo County. In addition, positive mosquitoes have been found in the Winslow and Polacca areas.

A bird from the Joseph City area and a horse from the Polacca area have also tested positive for the virus.

WNV is transmitted to humans and animals through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds.

State health officials reported Aug. 23 that 303 cases of WNV have been reported in humans in Arizona, of which 53 percent are males. The age range of those afflicted is one month to 98 years.

During 2003, Arizona experienced a total of 13 human cases of West Nile Virus, but presently leads the nation with 54 percent of the reported human cases.

Nationally there are more than 600 human cases in 24 states. The presence of WNV has been reported in 41 states and Puerto Rico. The virus has been detected in 12 of Arizona’s 15 counties.

“Navajo County Public Health Services District continues to work with the Arizona Department of Health Services, and other local health and environmental health agencies, to identify areas in Navajo County where West Nile Virus is present,” reported Interim Director Mary Tyler.

“The district has a West Nile Virus response plan. This plan was adopted by the Navajo County Board of Supervisors July 26,” she added.

The health district has been implementing the plan. WNV activities include human and animal case surveillance, mosquito abatement and public information.

“The best way to protect yourself, your family, friends and neighbors from mosquito-borne illness is to reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home and to take personal precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” Tyler said.

To avoid WNV:

* Eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can breed. Check for items outside the home that collect water, such as cans, bottles, jars, buckets, old tires, drums and other containers.

* Change water in flower vases, birdbaths and animal watering pans at least twice a week.

* Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets, and move air conditioner drain hoses frequently.

* Avoid being bitten by mosquitoes when going outside at night by using insect repellent containing DEET.

* Wear lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs from dusk to dawn, or in areas where mosquitoes are active.

The county health district has posted the 2004 WNV response plan on the county web site, www.co.navajo.az.us. For more information, call the health district at 1-928-524-4750.

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