South Bay Woman Contracts Rare Form of West Nile Meningitis

A South Bay woman in her 30s contracted an extremely rare form of a West Nile meningitis virus this summer, and though she’s been released from the hospital, doctors are trying to figure out how she contracted the disease, health officials announced on Wednesday.

So far this year, there have been 18 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in nine California counties, according to state health records – two of which were fatal, in Los Angeles and Sacramento counties. In the Southern California case, 79-year-old Albert Shipman of Carson spent two weeks in the hospital before he died this summer.

MORE: California's West Nile Virus Website

In Santa Clara County, the unidentified woman contracted West Nile meningitis, something that Dr. Sara Cody, the county's deputy health officer, said only 1 percent of those who contract West Nile virus get. West Nile meningitis causes the protective part of the brain and spine to swell.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Nile is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent the West Nile Virus infection, and most people infected have no symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever, headaches, muscle pain, nausea and other symptoms. Less than 1 percent of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurologic illness.

Joy Alexiou, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, said the South Bay woman became ill in mid-July, was sent to the hospital briefly, and is now recovering at home. She said health officials do not know where in the county the woman contracted the disease.

The last human case of West Nile Virus in Santa Clara County occurred in 2011 and was fatal.

In the Bay Area, as of Wednesday, humans have contracted West Nile Virus so far in Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Santa Cruz counties, according to the state Health Department. Statewide, 562 dead birds found carrying the virus were reported as of Wednesday.

The Santa Clara County Public Health offered some tips on how to avoid the virus:

  • Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon, eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.
  • Dress in long sleeves and pants if you are outside from dusk through dawn when many mosquitoes are most active. Be sure to install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. If you have air conditioning, use it.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by emptying standing water from containers such as flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.
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