Chico woman may have West Nile

Butte County seems to have its first case of West Nile virus in a human being, but the patient is expected to fully recover.

While West Nile fever has been diagnosed, the case has yet to be confirmed by the state, said Carmen Ochoa, spokesperson for the Butte County Department of Health.

It doesn’t come as a surprise. “We have been expecting human cases for some time,” she said.

Ochoa said the department learned of the probable human case from the patient’s physician and also from a testing laboratory.

The News & Review has learned the identity of the person but due to privacy concerns has chosen not to reveal it. The woman, who is middle-aged and works closely with Glenn County wildlife in a federal government job, is recovering at home and off work until September.

West Nile fever is less severe than West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that affects less than 1 percent of those infected with the virus who exhibit symptoms.

Ochoa said to her understanding the local patient is “not very sick at all,” but, reached at their Chico home, the woman’s husband said she was too ill to speak on the phone.

West Nile virus, which was confirmed in the United States in 1999, is transmitted though the bite of a mosquito that has transferred the virus from an infected bird. It can’t be caught person-to-person.

Ochoa said the best way to avoid the virus is to “not be bitten by mosquitoes.”

The Health Department recommends avoiding mosquitoes, applying insect repellent with DEET, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when out at dawn or dusk, making sure door and window screens fit tightly and eliminating standing water on one’s property.

Since Aug. 6, 109 cases of West Nile virus have been reported in California, and 246 people died from it nationwide last year.

Symptoms of the infection, which affect 20 percent of patients, involve the central nervous system and include fever, headache and body aches, nausea, vomiting and occasionally swollen lymph glands or a skin rash. Only about 1 in 150 of those with symptoms becomes severely ill, but the effects can last for weeks, especially in the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

Butte County is maintaining seven flocks of “sentinel chickens,” which are allowed to be bitten by mosquitoes and then tested every other week for virus antibodies. None of the chickens have tested positive so far, Ochoa said.

"West Nile is definitely here in our community," she said. "It doesn’t really matter where [the infected woman] is. The important thing is all of us are at risk for West Nile virus."