Grandmother who died of West Nile virus didn't know she got bit, family says

The grieving family of an 84-year-old California woman who died of West Nile virus wants health officials to do more about spreading awareness.

“Just tell people across California that this is an epidemic going on that they probably don’t even know about,” Nick Howe, Julie Shepherd’s son-in-law, told KTLA.

Shepherd’s death on Monday marks the sixth West Nile-related fatality in the state this year, with officials tallying 35 new cases in the last week. Her relatives said Shepherd, an active woman in the years leading up to her death, didn’t even realize that she had been bit by a mosquito before falling ill. She presented symptoms similar to those of a stroke, leading doctors to initially treat her as such, KTLA reported.


“It was heartbreaking,” Suzi Howe, Shepherd’s daughter, told the news outlet. “Nobody should have to go through that.”

Howe said her mom initially presented with partial paralysis and fatigue, but her condition deteriorated during her two-week hospital stay, eventually leading to neurological issues. While most people infected with the virus will not suffer symptoms, others may develop fevers, headaches, body aches, joint paints, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 150 patients develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system. Those who are over 60 or have pre-existing health issues are considered to be at a greater risk for illness.

“I mean, you think about your mom having a stroke, a heart attack, any of those things – not a bug bite,” Howe told KTLA. “Not a mosquito bite that’s going to take her down.”


While Shepherd lived in West Covina, officials in nearby Ventura County said mosquitoes collected in Simi Valley earlier this month tested positive for the virus, KTLA reported.

“Usually by this time of the year, we find West Nile positive mosquitoes throughout the district,” Jason Farned, of the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District, told KTLA. “In all of the cities, we found that the virus is present – which is pretty consistent every year.”

To avoid contracting the virus, health officials advised residents to rid of standing water and to ensure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens.