Dougherty coroner confirms report that man who died had West Nile Virus

A mosquito cage is shown in a mosquito endocrinology lab on the UGA Athens campus in this undated photo. Mosquitoes can carry the West Nile Virus. (Special Photo: April Sorrow/UGA)

ALBANY — A Dougherty County man who died Wednesday had West Nile Virus, though it is not being considered the cause of death.

Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler confirmed Wednesday that an older Dougherty County man who had the virus died that morning, based on what he was told by the deceased man’s physician.

“This is the first (West Nile-related case) since I’ve been in office,” Fowler said. “I’m doing the legwork on it now.”

Fowler said the doctor was not listing the virus as the cause of death because the patient had numerous other health issues as well.

“(The virus) is live now in Albany,” Fowler said. “People should take precautions.”

The coroner said the deceased man was “an older gentleman,” which is one of the high-risk categories for the virus.

The last death in Georgia attributed to the virus was in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC website reports a total of 33 cases of West Nile in Georgia in the years 2014-16.

The CDC says West Nile virus is an arthropod-borne virus (arbovirus) that is most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes, which get the virus from feeding on infected birds, though there are a small number of cases from blood transfusions and breastfeeding. While 70-80 percent of those infected do not develop symptoms, the virus can cause febrile illness, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), the CDC says. Those who are 60 and older or who have conditions such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension and kidney disease are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms.

About 20 percent who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms, including headache, body ache, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months, the CDC says.

In less than 1 percent of people who are infected, serious neurologic illness occurs. Those symptoms can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis. Recovery can take months. Some of the neurologic effects may be permanent. About 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection die, the CDC says.

West Nile virus transmission has been documented in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, parts of Asia and Australia. It was first detected in North America in 1999, and has since spread across the United States (except for Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada, the CDC says.

There is no vaccine for the virus.

Dougherty County Environmental Control Manager Donell Mathis said Wednesday he and his crew started treating for mosquitoes earlier this year than normal because of the unseasonably warm and wet winter.

“We started treating water with larvacide a few weeks back to try and keep the mosquitoes from hatching, but we had to back off for a bit when we had that couple of cool nights last week,” Mathis said. “We’ve started back treating areas that hold water — holding ponds, ditches, canals, ponds, wetlands — and we’ve started our countywide spraying program.

“We generally spray from 7 o’clock at night to 11 o’clock — that’s when mosquitoes are most active — but we’ve also done some spraying at 1 p.m. in some areas, targeting the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. Our program will take us to all parts of the county, but we’ll pay a little more attention to areas where the virus has been reported.”

Carlton Fletcher contributed to this report.

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