A Sacramento County resident who was over age 65 became the first person in California to die of West Nile virus this year, the state Department of Public Health announced Friday.
The department did not identify the person or indicate when the death occurred or where in the county the person contracted the virus.
The past two years have seen the most West Nile-related deaths in California since the virus first appeared here in 2003.
Last year, 53 Californians died after contracting the virus, according to state records. In 2014, 31 people died from the virus.
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The Department of Public Health last month announced it had observed increased West Nile activity across the state, with rising numbers of birds and mosquitoes carrying the virus.
The virus may be spreading quickly this year because late spring rain and the easing of drought-related watering restrictions may have provided ample breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry West Nile, said Gary Goodman, director of the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District.
“When that water rolls off lawns, it goes into the catch basins and that’s a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said.
People who track the virus believe the state saw dense concentrations of West Nile develop during drought years in parts of the state because mosquitoes and birds clustered around whatever water sources they could find.
Most people infected with West Nile experience mild symptoms, such as fever and joint pain. However, 1 percent of people who contract the virus experience more serious symptoms, such as disorientation, seizures and paralysis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The elderly are particularly susceptible, as this unfortunate fatality illustrates,” said state Public Health Officer Karen Smith in a statement. “I urge Californians to take every possible precaution to protect themselves against mosquito bites.”
So far this year, seven Sacramento County residents are believed to have become infected with West Nile, according to the county health department. Two more people in Yolo County also are believed to have contracted the virus, that county announced on July 25.
This summer, the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District has sprayed chemicals that kill adult mosquitoes in Sacramento’s Arden Arcade neighborhood and in Woodland. It plans to spray in more communities if the district gathers data showing the virus is spreading.
Goodman urged people to wear mosquito repellant in the evening and prevent water from pooling near their home.
“This death that is now being announced definitely carries quite a bit of weight. We’re very sorry for this family,” he said. “We want people to realize there is a real and true risk of contracting West Nile virus.”