West Nile virus infection confirmed in Washington resident

A Walla Walla County man is the first Washington resident in 2014 known to have been infected with West Nile virus in our state. The man in his 20s was likely exposed near his home and was hospitalized. The infection was confirmed by testing at the Washington State Public Health Laboratories in Shoreline.

Two other Washington residents have been diagnosed with the infection this year, both with exposures in other states. A King County man in his 70s and a Grays Harbor woman in her 50s were infected with West Nile virus this year while traveling out of state. Additional reports of possible infections are currently under investigation.

“The mosquito samples that have tested positive for West Nile virus in eastern Washington this season are a reminder that the virus is here and we should protect ourselves,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “The best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites — at home and while traveling.”

So far, 34 mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus in 2014, including Benton County (11), Franklin County (11), and Grant County (12). The number of positive mosquito samples detected this year has already surpassed the number found during the past three years, combined (28).

Year after year, south central Washington has been a “hot spot” for the virus, with most in-state acquired human and animal cases having been exposed in this area. Mosquito testing shows the virus is in our state, and the mosquito species that transmit the virus are found throughout Washington. Regardless of where you are, health officials recommend avoiding mosquito bites to help prevent getting infected.

A few simple precautions can help reduce your chances of getting mosquito bites:

  • Stay indoors around dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Use a mosquito repellent when spending time outdoors, and consider wearing long sleeves and pants when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Be sure that door and window screens are in good condition so that mosquitoes cannot get indoors.
  • Reduce mosquito habitat around the home by dumping standing or stagnant water in old buckets, cans, flower pots, or old tires, and frequently change water in birdbaths, pet dishes, and water troughs.

West Nile virus is primarily a bird disease, and often dead birds are an early sign that the disease is active in an area. People may report dead birds online to public health officials. So far this year no dead birds have been reported with the infection in the state.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will have no symptoms at all. Others may develop fever, headache, or body aches. For a small percentage of people, West Nile virus infection can be very serious, resulting in encephalitis, meningitis, or other complications. People over age 50 have the highest risk for serious illness.

Last year, only two human infections of West Nile virus were reported, and both were exposed out of state. During 2012, four cases were reported, two of which were in-state acquired while the other two were travel-associated. The state most active year was 2009, in which there were 38 human cases, 95 animal cases (including birds), and 364 positive mosquito samples. It’s impossible to predict what each year may bring, so it’s important to do things to prevent mosquito bites and protect yourself from West Nile virus infection.

More information is available on the agency’s West Nile virus information line, 1-866-78-VIRUS (1-866-788-4787) and on the West Nile virus website.

The Department of Health website (www.doh.wa.gov) is your source for a healthy dose of information. Also, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Flu hits peak levels in Washington State

OLYMPIA — The flu has reached its peak, and 19 lab-confirmed flu deaths have been reported across the state since December. Only lab-confirmed flu deaths are reportable in the state, and many cases aren’t lab tested, so the actual toll of flu is likely higher.

“The flu can be a serious disease,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, interim state health officer. “People of all ages can get very sick. Getting vaccinated is the best protection and can help people avoid severe illness, hospitalization, and even death.”

The virus is widespread in Washington. Most confirmed flu cases across the nation and in our state have been the 2009 H1N1 strain, which is covered by this season’s flu vaccine. A flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older. It’s especially important for people at high risk for complications from flu, including young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older, and people with certain medical conditions — such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and neurologic conditions.

Nationally, estimates from November showed that less than 40 percent of the population had been vaccinated against flu, leaving a lot of people unprotected. To best protect people and communities from flu, 80 percent or more must be vaccinated — that’s the national goal.

The state health department produced a public service announcement and online ads with Washington families talking about why they get a flu shot and encouraging others to do so. The statewide flu prevention ads will run online, on the radio, and in social media through February. Radio ads will air on stations in the Seattle, Vancouver, Spokane, Yakima, and Tri-Cities areas.

Produced public service announcements and other flu resources and materials can be found on the Department of Health flu news Web pages.

If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine, now is the time. It takes two weeks after vaccination to be protected. We expect flu to circulate in our state for several more weeks. Kids under nine years old may need two doses about a month apart. You can get vaccinated at many locations, including health care provider offices, pharmacies, and some local health agencies. Check the flu vaccine finder to find out where to get flu vaccine in your community.

Many people with flu have a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, and fatigue. Antiviral medication can help. It must be prescribed by a doctor and it works best if started within two days of getting sick. It’s especially important for persons at high risk for flu complications to start treatment right away.

The Washington State Department of Health buys flu vaccine for all kids through age 18. Kids can get the vaccine from their regular health care provider. Providers may charge an office visit fee and an administration fee to give the vaccine. People who can’t afford the administration fee can ask to have it waived.

The Department of Health website (doh.wa.gov) is your source for a healthy dose of information. Also, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.