The New Mexico Department of Health announced today that an 89-year-old man from Lea County has died from West Nile virus infection. This is the first fatality due to West Nile virus in New Mexico in 2014. The man had encephalitis, the more severe clinical form of the disease, and had been hospitalized. Eight cases of West Nile virus infection have been confirmed in the state this year.

West Nile virus
Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito/CDC

Cases this year have also been confirmed in a 45-year-old woman from San Juan County, a 7-year-old boy from De Baca County, a 41-year-old woman from Quay County, a 73-year-old man from Doña Ana County, a 74-year-old woman from Grant County, a 67-year-old woman from Quay County, and a 40-year-old woman from Sandoval County. Four of these cases developed the more severe neurologic form of West Nile virus infection and all of these cases are recovering.

“West Nile virus infection can potentially lead to serious complications in anyone who gets infected; but it’s especially true for people older than 50,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “It’s important that everyone take the appropriate precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

People become infected with West Nile virus from the bite of an infected mosquito. Symptoms usually start from 2 to 14 days later. Common West Nile virus symptoms are fever, nausea, headache, and muscle aches. In rare cases, West Nile virus can cause meningitis or encephalitis. If someone has these symptoms, they should see their health care provider. People 50 years and older are at most risk for serious disease from West Nile virus.

“Mosquito populations are high throughout the state due to the large amounts of rainfall, and everyone should assume that some of these mosquitoes are carrying West Nile virus,”said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the Department’s public health veterinarian. “September is one of the peak months for West Nile virus cases in New Mexico, so we’re asking everyone to be mindful of the risks and take the necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

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In 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health identified 38 cases of West Nile virus infection, including 3 fatalities and 24 with serious disease of the central nervous system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of September 16, a total of 45 states and the District of Columbia have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. Overall, 725 cases of West Nile virus disease in people have been reported to CDC, including 25 fatalities.