West Nile Suspected In Death Of Ohio Man

For more information on West Nile spraying in Cuyahoga County, call the West Nile Hotline at (216) 443-5679.

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The West Nile virus is suspected of causing the death of a 79-year-old man from Clermont County, making it the first possible human death from the virus in the state, the state epidemiologist said on Friday.

The man, who is not being identified, died of encephalitis on Aug. 12, said Forrest Smith, epidemiologist for the Ohio Department of Health.

That illness was probably caused by the West Nile virus, Smith said. Clermont County is east of Cincinnati.

It is the 14th suspected case of the virus in Ohio, Smith said.

The very old, very young and those with weak immune systems are most likely to be affected by the disease. The Clermont County man's case "fits into the category most at risk," Smith said.

The state has sent lab samples from the man to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for final testing.

The Health Department urged Ohioans to avoid activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are likely to be biting. Ohioans who must be outside should wear long pants, shoes and socks and dress in light colors, which are less attractive to mosquitoes, said Richard Berry, chief of the Health Department's insect-borne disease program.

They also should eliminate any standing water on their property to eliminate mosquitoes' breeding sites, Berry said. That includes discarded tires and blocked gutters, he said.

Also Friday, the Department of Natural Resources reported that dozens of sick and dying owls and hawks have been reported in Ohio, and tests indicate several died of the West Nile virus.

The state urged Ohioans to leave any dead or injured birds alone. Sick birds can be reported online at the DNR's Web site (link included in "On Action News Now" section, above).

The virus first was found in the state in a blue jay in July 2001. It is carried by mosquitos and can be fatal to birds and horses but rarely to humans.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito don't become noticeably ill, but some develop flu-like symptoms.

At least 14 people have died nationally from West Nile virus in 2002, according to the CDC. Hardest hit is Louisiana, with eight deaths.

The virus had never been reported in the Western Hemisphere until August 1999, when seven people died in a New York City outbreak.

"Our immune system has never been challenged by this virus, so we're all susceptible," Smith said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)