Juneau man who visited Florida diagnosed with West Nile virus

Alaska has yet to record a human or animal case that has been locally acquired

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A possible case of West Nile virus has been detected in a Juneau man who apparently picked up the disease in Florida.

It's not the first time someone in Alaska has been diagnosed with the virus, but it's the first time a resident has been, according to the state Section of Epidemiology. The man was not identified.

Dr. Louisa Castrodale said Friday that Alaska has yet to record a human or animal case of locally acquired West Nile virus, and the latest case does not increase that risk.

According to state health officials, imported human cases of the virus are not directly infectious to other humans or animals and do not change the likelihood that the virus will be detected or established in Alaska.

West Nile virus first appeared in North America in 1999. Since then, reports of illness and death among humans and other mammals have increased each year. Last year, 4,156 people caught the virus, and 284 died.

The West Nile virus rarely kills, but about one in 150 people who get it will develop potentially deadly encephalitis or meningitis. Most often, it affects the elderly.

West Nile had been detected as far west as Wyoming and Colorado, and on Friday was detected in Utah. The virus is spread by mosquitoes after they bite infected birds and then bite humans.

People with serious cases of West Nile experience high fever, fatigue, and headache and may become confused, have seizures, or go into a coma. There is no human vaccine for the virus.

Most human cases have occurred in late August and early September, and Alaska health officials said it was too early to predict the full effect of West Nile virus for 2003.

The Alaska State Virology Laboratory in Fairbanks reported the virus Thursday in a blood sample from a Juneau man.

"There will be some confirmatory results, probably in a couple of weeks," Castrodale said, from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, Colo.

Although diagnosed in Alaska, the 44-year-old man became ill while vacationing. The man traveled from Alaska to New York on July 23 and drove to Florida, where he spent 11 days camping near Key West.

While camping, he received more than 200 insect bites despite using multiple mosquito repellents. His symptoms began two or three days after the camping trip. The incubation period for West Nile virus is two to 14 days.

The man began to experience a stiff neck, tender lymph nodes, disturbed vision and low grade fever on Aug. 1, and later nausea, vertigo, muscle pain and pressure behind the eyes.

On August 11, he visited an urgent care clinic in Juneau for evaluation. He was not hospitalized and is now recovering.

A blood sample was collected Tuesday and sent to the Fairbanks lab.

According the Epidemiology Section, the patient had not visited another area with a West Nile virus epidemic in the past year.

An Illinois resident was diagnosed with West Nile virus in Alaska last year.

The Epidemiology Section is continuing surveillance for more cases.

Testing began in early July at the Blood Bank of Alaska.

As of Thursday, the virology lab had test tested 14 dead ravens, gray jays, magpies or raptors. None tested positive.

Health officials warn that anyone traveling to areas with mosquito-borne disease should take precautions to avoid bites such as clothing that acts as a barrier and mosquito repellent.

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