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Fifth West Nile victim dies

Outbreak now worst in United States history

A truck sprays insecticide to kill mosquitoes in a subdivision in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday.  

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CNN) -- A fifth person has died in Louisiana from the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, and 14 more cases of the disease have been reported, making this the nation's worst outbreak of the disease, authorities said Tuesday.

The fifth Louisiana victim died last week, but the cause of death was not confirmed until Tuesday, said Dr. Erin Brewer, regional medical director for the state's Office of Public Health.

There are 71 confirmed cases statewide, said Bob Johannessen, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said Tuesday.

"There's no way to predict what's going to happen, but we thought we'd get more (cases), because they started in late June," Brewer said. "We knew we were early in the season, and knew the potential for more human cases was always there."

So far, 71 cases of the deadly West Nile virus have been confirmed in Louisiana, making this the nation's worst outbreak of the disease. CNN's Rea Blakey reports (August 7)

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The first two deaths occurred early in July; the others were last week.

The 71 cases top the previous worst outbreak of the virus in the United States. In 1999, 62 people in New York City came down with the disease. Seven of them died.

In addition to the Louisiana outbreak, there have been 22 cases in Mississippi and 10 in Texas this year, said Bernadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On Wednesday, officials in Alabama said they had confirmed one case. (Full story)

Illinois also reported Tuesday its first human case of West Nile virus, saying a 22-year-old woman was infected. The woman reported only minor symptoms -- fever, achy muscles and a slight rash -- and has since recovered.

Few trends in fatalities

In Louisiana, each of the five people who died was more than 50 years of age, and there was no strong geographic denominator, Brewer said. They lived in urban, suburban and rural areas.

Many people who get West Nile -- which is transmitted to mosquitos by migrating birds -- have no symptoms, and never seek medical help, the doctor said.

Others suffer flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and headaches, while still others develop meningitis, encephalitis or a combination of the two diseases, Brewer said.

"The tendency is for those over 50 or 60 to develop the severe diseases," she said.

Of the cases in Louisiana, most of the people have meningitis, encephalitis or both a few have West Nile fever; and the others still are being examined.

Symptoms of meningitis are fever, headache, stiff neck and light-sensitive eyes. Encephalitis can be marked by light-sensitive eyes, confusion, delirium and trouble walking or talking.


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