HEADLINES

West Nile virus kills San Fernando Valley resident in LA County’s first such death of year

Posted on: 10/11/2018 00:00

(dailynews.com) Los Angeles County health officials on Wednesday confirmed the county’s first West Nile virus death of the year and again urged residents to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites that can spread the disease.

Robert Johnson, 53, a longtime Los Angeles County public defender and father of two, died after contracting the virus.

Johnson was a San Fernando Valley resident who was hospitalized in early September and died from “West Nile virus-associated neuro-invasive disease,” according to the county Department of Public Health.

So far, 38 human cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed this year in the county, excluding Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments. In 2017, there were 268 human cases of the virus in the county, and a record 27 deaths.

“This should remind us all that West Nile virus is a serious disease,” said county health officer Dr. Muntu Davis. “Everyone should take precautions by using Environmental Protection Agency-registered mosquito repellent when outside and checking weekly for items that collect standing water in their homes or yards where mosquitoes can breed.

“Items that hold water, even as small as a bottle cap, should be cleaned, covered or cleared out to stop mosquito breeding,” Davis said.

The virus is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Health officials said people over age 50 and people with chronic medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes have a higher risk of developing severe neuro-invasive disease from a West Nile infection that can lead to brain infections, paralysis or even death.

Given the risk, vector control district officials in recent weeks have canvassed areas in the Valley where mosquitos are known to breed.

In August, they identified six “chronic mosquito breeding sites” in Northridge and other northwest San Fernando Valley neighborhoods that Los Angeles city officials needed to address. Those areas had large amounts of stagnant water around clogged gutters and other public infrastructure. Samples taken from mosquitoes in several San Fernando Valley communities, between July 3 and Aug. 16, showed the presence of the virus, vector control officials said. Those areas included Burbank, Encino, Northridge, Panorama City, Porter Ranch, Sherman Oaks, Sun Valley and Van Nuys.

Johnson’s death touched off a wave of well-wishes, everywhere from the Public Defender’s Office to his neighborhood, where he was said to be “universally loved.”

On an early post on a GoFundMe page, Johnson, of Shadow Hills, was described as “a vibrant man, dedicated Public Defender, amazing father and spouse, who has been seriously hobbled by a mosquito bearing the West Nile Virus.”

The page noted that the virus caused encephalitis and “flaccid paralysis.”

“It is amazing and terrible that a bite from a tiny mosquito can put a person into a semi-vegetative state,” according to the post.

By Wednesday, more were mourning his loss, stunned that a bite could lead to this.

One local resident said on Facebook that Johnson lived next door.

“I was thinking,” the post said, “that everyone needs to know that this doesn’t always happen to someone else.”

Johnson’s death also comes as county health officials are cautioning residents about another illness spread by bugs.

On Tuesday, officials said a coordinated government response to an outbreak of flea-borne typhus is critical.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Los Angeles County health workers need to collaborate with their peers in Pasadena — where the disease has reached epidemic proportions — and Long Beach. Both cities have independent health agencies.

Barger previewed a motion calling for more outreach to at-risk individuals as well as the many city agencies that manage animal control and trash collection across the county. It will be considered by the Board of Supervisors next week.

The recent typhus outbreak downtown represents about 15 percent of the 59 cases identified by Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health this year, according to Barger. Six of the nine downtown cases were contracted by homeless individuals and all nine were hospitalized for treatment, according to the DPH.

The county total reflects a upward trend over at least the last three years, with 67 cases reported for the full year 2017. That does not include cases in Long Beach or Pasadena.

Pasadena has been disproportionately impacted, confirming 20 cases of typhus to date in 2018, as compared with a history of one to five cases annually. Long Beach has had double its historical rate of cases, with a total of 12 reported to date.

 


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