ST. PAUL (AP) -- Two men in their 80s from rural Minnesota were the second and third official deaths in Minnesota from the West Nile virus, the Health Department confirmed.
In addition to the two official deaths confirmed Tuesday, a fourth Minnesotan died after being infected with the virus, possibly while traveling outside the state.
The second official death was Vernon Zempel, 82, of Montevideo, who died Friday after being hospitalized with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
The third was Jack Wadsworth, 84, of Spicer, according to his granddaughter Emily Sundstrom, who learned the virus was the cause of death last week. He also had developed encephalitis.
The unofficial fourth death was Dr. David Dahlin, 86, his family said. Dahlin was a retired Mayo Clinic surgical pathologist and expert in bone tumors who lived in Rochester.
Dahlin's son, Brian, said he wasn't sure where his father was infected, but guessed it was during a whitewater canoe trip on the Yellowstone River in mid-August.
Betty Zempel, 78, said her husband, Vernon, became sick while working in the garden Aug. 6 and later developed encephalitis. "He wasn't young anymore, and that was against him," she said.
Zempel had dabbled in a variety of careers, including stints as the owner of an egg hatchery and greenhouse. He was an unsuccessful candidate for state representative in 1962.
Wadsworth, who had gone to the Mayo Clinic in mid-August and received a clean bill of health, died Sept. 9 at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, Sundstrom said.
Wadsworth's daughter, Pat Sundstrom, said Wadsworth was found to have pneumonia Aug. 31. He was released Sept. 4, but was back in the hospital Sept. 6.
"His symptoms got worse," she said. "They didn't tell us what was wrong. They did a bunch of tests and told us what was not wrong."
On Sept. 7, doctors suggested it could be West Nile. He died before tests were completed, she said.
This is the peak reporting time for West Nile in Minnesota. Fifty-four cases have been reported this year, up from 48 last year. No one died last year.
Dr. Harry Hull, the state epidemiologist, said most people aren't at risk of developing the illness. The elderly and those with weak immune systems are more prone to infection.
Health Department officials say exposure to the virus is possible in Minnesota until the first hard frost. However, continued dry weather and colder temperatures would trim the mosquito population, reducing risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,659 cases of West Nile and 67 related fatalities had been reported nationally as of Wednesday morning.
Health professionals recommend using mosquito repellent, wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants and avoiding outdoor activities when mosquitos are feeding to avoid contracting the virus.
Symptoms of the virus, including headache, fever, muscle weakness and tremors, usually show up two to 15 days after a person is bitten.
However, the Health Department says most people who are infected with the virus will experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
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