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Glenn County man dies of W. Nile virus

The West Nile virus has killed a Glenn County man after a months-long struggle with the disease, state and Glenn County officials said Thursday.

Authorities confirmed the death after seeing an obituary in the Chico Enterprise-Record late last month. The obituary said Daniel Merkes, 53, contracted West Nile six months ago and died from the disease on March 19.

Merkes is only the second Northern California man to die from the West Nile virus. The virus killed a Tehama County man last fall.

Twenty-seven California residents died from West Nile virus in 2004, state records show. Merkes' passing will be logged as a 2004 death because that is when he contracted the illness, state officials said.

No new human cases of West Nile virus have been reported in California in 2005, though the disease has been found in dead birds, including one in Sacramento County, state records show.

The disease is spread by mosquitoes. It is most devastating for those who have a compromised immune system, including the elderly or people with HIV or cancer. Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and headache.

The worst cases of the disease often include neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. The Glenn County man was paralyzed by the disease, officials said.

Last year, Glenn County had three confirmed human cases of West Nile virus, officials said. The county has 27,000 people, giving it one of the highest rates of West Nile infection per capita, state data show.

Many of the county's small, irrigated farms are fertile ground for mosquitoes - and West Nile virus.

"They just become little mosquito nurseries," said Nip Boyes, who coordinates the response to West Nile virus for Glenn County Health Services.

Boyes said the victim - he could not confirm Merkes' identity because of privacy laws - had an immune system that was severely suppressed before he contracted the virus.

He could not say why the man had a compromised immune system. But the immune system is often suppressed when patients take certain drugs following an organ transplant.

Boyes said the victim "was a very nice man. Our hearts ache for his friends and family."

Merkes was born in Appleton, Wis., according to his obituary. He toured the United States on his motorcycle before moving to California and meeting Jane Gitter, his wife of 25 years, the obituary states.

Merkes was a regular customer at Industrial Power Products, which sells outdoor power equipment, said Scott Fales, who works at the store.

Merkes was a landscaper, so he often worked outdoors, Fales said.

"He was a real polite gentleman," Fales said. "He was a down-to-earth guy. He came in here with no shirt on."

About the writer:

  • The Bee's Phillip Reese can be reached at (916) 321-1137 or Bee staff writer Dorsey Griffith contributed to this report.