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ND West Nile cases triple from last year as virus claims second victim

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--The West Nile virus has claimed its second North Dakota victim this year, and with the state confirming three times the cases it had last year, it has become a busy season for the disease.

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GRAND FORKS, N.D.-The West Nile virus has claimed its second North Dakota victim this year, and with the state confirming three times the cases it had last year, it has become a busy season for the disease.

A 60-year-old man from central North Dakota has died from complications due to the mosquito-transmitted virus, the state Department of Health announced Monday.

Officials didn't identify the man and declined to say when he died, but officials warned residents to use precautionary measures to avoid bites from the insects, even as the mosquito season begins to wind down.

"This death is an unfortunate reminder that West Nile virus can cause very severe disease, especially for those over 60," Health Department epidemiologist Laura Cronquist said in a statement. "Until there is a hard frost to get rid of the remaining mosquito population, the risk is still present, and people should continue to use personal precautions."

The announcement of the second fatality comes just weeks after a Fargo man died from the same disease. The family of Arnold Thomas Esterby, 76, said he died Aug. 28 after doctors confirmed he tested positive for West Nile.

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60 cases

North Dakota has had an active season for West Nile cases this year. The state Health Department has counted 60 human confirmations in 24 counties this year compared with 23 in 2015. That pales in comparison to 2003 and 2007, when the state had 617 and 369 cases, respectively.

"We've had anywhere from one case in one year to 617 cases in another year," Cronquist said Tuesday. "It's quite a range."

Cases have been sporadic around the state, with Cass County having the most at 15. With the exception of Bowman County, West Nile has not been reported in most of western North Dakota.

Grand Forks County has reported two human cases.

The department started tracking cases in 2000 after New York saw an outbreak of the virus in 1999. That was the first time the U.S. reported a human case of West Nile. North Dakota's first case wasn't reported until August 2002.

Nationwide, 537 people have been confirmed as contracting West Nile this year.

It's hard to tell exactly why there has been an increase in reported cases this year, but weather plays a large part, she said. Heavy rain and sitting water promotes breeding for mosquitoes, and North Dakota has seen its fair share of precipitation this summer. Most of the state has seen above-normal precipitation for the year to date, with part of northwest North Dakota measuring 8 to 16 inches above normal as of Tuesday.

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"There are so many different factors that play into it," she said. "I think the conditions have just been right."

Most people who contract West Nile-70 to 80 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-don't develop any symptoms. Those who do tend to have mild reactions, including headaches, fever and body aches.

Because the symptoms are mild, they often go unreported, which can alter the total number of confirmed cases.

"A lot of people don't realize that is what is happening," Cronquist said. "You can attribute it to any number of things."

About 1 percent of those who contract West Nile will develop more severe symptoms, according to the CDC. Of the North Dakota cases confirmed this year, 20 percent, or 12 people, have developed more severe forms of West Nile that have caused neurologic infection, according to the state Health Department. In those cases, it can take weeks or even months to recover from more severe symptoms, with some effects being permanent or causing death.

About 10 percent of victims who develop a neurologic infection due to West Nile die from that complication, according to the Health Department. Conquist said she couldn't discuss the specifics of individual cases but pointed out a neurologic infection is the most common killer when it comes to contracting the virus.

Two deaths this year from West Nile in North Dakota is on par with other years. The most was reported in 2003 with five deaths, though the state reported no deaths in 2005 and in the period 2008 through 2011.

Human cases in North Dakota

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As of Friday, North Dakota has confirmed 60 human cases this year in 24 counties. The virus also has been found in four horses, eight dead birds, 15 mosquito pools and one unspecified animal.

The majority of cases come from residents ages 60 years or older with 23 confirmations. Twelve have been reported in the 50- to 59-year-old group. There were 11 people between the ages of 30 and 39 who contracted the virus. All other age groups, which covers 10 years each, reported cases in the single digits.

Here are the confirmed human cases by county.

• Barnes-3

• Benson-1

• Bowman-1

• Burleigh-6

• Cass-15

• Dickey-3

• Foster-1

• Grand Forks-2

• Griggs-1

• McIntosh-2

• McLean-1

• Mercer-2

• Morton-3

• Pierce-1

• Ramsey-2

• Ransom-1

• Richland-2

• Sargent-1

• Sheridan-1

• Stutsman-3

• Traill-1

• Walsh-1

• Ward-4

• Wells-2

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