ST. PAUL -- A Moorhead man was the first Minnesotan to die of West Nile virus, the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday.
Robert Bender, 73, died Tuesday at a Fargo, N.D., hospital of complications from the virus, his widow, Helen, said Wednesday. He had entered the hospital Aug. 31.
"It all happened pretty fast," Helen Bender said. "It really started to get bad on Sunday. He had a high temperature and he was trembling and shaking.
"He tried to talk but he couldn't," she said.
Helen Bender said she and her husband "don't go outside much" but said they were taking precautions against mosquitoes.
She didn't know for sure where he was bitten, but told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that she suspected it was in the couple's back yard, which has a pool and tall weeds.
She said that her husband, a retired electrician, enjoyed spending time outside and sitting on their deck. "He was a putterer," Helen Bender told the newspaper.
She said her husband had been in declining health because of Parkinson's disease. "I think it all just took a toll," she said.
The virus was first reported in the state in July of last year. The death brings to 31 the total number of cases reported this year in Minnesota, compared with 48 last year.
As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had received 2,874 reported cases of the disease, including 53 deaths, nationwide this year.
State Epidemiologist Harry Hull said the case should remind people to protect themselves against mosquitoes, though he stressed that the chances of getting the disease remain small.
He said protective measures are particularly important for older Minnesotans, who are at higher risk of developing severe illness from the West Nile virus.
The virus is spread to people and animals by bites from mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds. It rarely kills, but about 1 in 150 people who get the virus will develop potentially deadly encephalitis or meningitis.
Since the virus first entered the country through New York in 1999, late August through September has been its peak season. It infected 4,156 people nationally and killed 284 in 2002 -- its largest U.S. outbreak yet.
To reduce your risk of being bitten, the Health Department recommends:
* Using a good mosquito repellent, containing no more than 30 percent of the active ingredient DEET.
* Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants.
* Avoid outdoor activities at dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are feeding.
* Eliminate possible mosquito-breeding sites such as old tires, buckets or clogged rain gutters.
Symptoms of the illness usually show up two to 15 days after being bitten. They can include headache, high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and coma.
People who suspect that they may have West Nile should see a doctor.
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