ATLANTA – A woman who lived near downtown Atlanta has died of the West Nile virus, the first reported death from the disease outside the Northeast since the virus emerged on the East Coast in 1999.
The 71-year-old woman was treated at a hospital 12 days for encephalitis before she died Aug. 11. Tests done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the cause of death Friday.
The virus, which can cause deadly swelling of the brain, has killed nine people in New York and New Jersey since 1999. The disease appeared last month in a Florida man, and in dead birds in Florida, Georgia and Virginia. Mosquitoes can carry the virus from birds to humans and other animals.
Six other people in Atlanta hospitals with similar symptoms are being tested but no other human cases in Georgia have been confirmed, said Dr. Adewale Troutman, director of the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness.
The woman was identified only as "Miss Hill" by authorities who said they would not release her full name to protect her family's privacy.
Mayor Bill Campbell and health officials urged residents to be vigilant about mosquito bites, wear long sleeves and use mosquito repellent.
"It's not a time to panic," county Commissioner Nancy Boxill said. "It's a time to be alert."
For most people, the virus causes only a flu-like sickness and many who are exposed don't get sick at all. It is mostly a concern for the elderly and people with weak immune systems.
Health officials confirmed July 26 that birds found in Fulton County were infected with the virus. Officials have also found infected birds in 10 other Georgia counties.
There have been two human cases in Florida near the Georgia line. Neither elderly patient has died.