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October 17, 2013

Indiana confirms first West Nile death of 2013

Tribune-Star inquiry leads to state’s disclosure

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana is reporting its first death this year from West Nile virus, the Indiana Department of Health confirmed Wednesday after a Tribune-Star inquiry.

“I cannot provide the county residency of the person who died due to privacy laws,” said Amanda Turney, state department of health spokeswoman. “I cannot release any details about when the case occurred as it would be identifying.”

The Vigo County Health Department has investigated one human case of West Nile virus, said Joni Wise, administrator.

She could not reveal the outcome of that case because of privacy laws, Wise said.

As of Wednesday, the state was reporting 20 documented human West Nile cases in Indiana: Allen, Clark, Bartholomew, Elkhart, Floyd, Hamilton, Lake, Ripley, Scott and Vigo, all with one case; Kosciusko and Marion, two cases each; and Porter and Vanderburgh, each with three cases.

The age range of patients has been from 16 to 85.

While people of all ages can be and have been infected with the virus, health officials report those individuals age 50 and over, or those with weakened immune systems, are at greatest risk for serious illness and even death from West Nile virus.

West Nile is deemed a reportable disease by the Indiana State Department of Health, so the entity that diagnoses it (hospital, emergency room, private doctor, lab) is required to report the disease to health officials, Wise said.

There is no legal requirement to report a human case of West Nile virus to the public, Wise said. “If something arises from any given disease (H1N1, chicken pox, WNV, flu), we have always tried to make sure the public has the information needed to make an informed choice and best understand the situation,” she stated in an email.

When a human West Nile case is confirmed, Vigo County Health Department nurses work with the infectious disease specialist at the hospital or the infected person’s doctor to gather clinical information, Wise said.

The department also gathers information about where the person might have been when bitten by an infected mosquito.

The vector control division then goes to those areas and eliminates any standing water that may exist and takes other corrective action.

Vigo County has had 32 batches of mosquitoes test positive for West Nile, according to a state board of health map. The county has sent in 158 batches or pools of mosquitoes for testing.

The Vigo County Health Department has provided information to the public about the risk of WNV and precautions to take, Wise said.

“It’s real and it happens. We don’t just tell people to scare them,” Wise said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com

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