TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The recent epidemic of mosquito-borne St. Louis encephalitis has claimed its first victim in Florida, the state's first death caused by the virus in 13 years, a state health official said yesterday.
Alvena Patton, a 58-year-old Brevard County woman who has been in a coma since Aug. 21, died Saturday, according to Ernie Durfee, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
The death rate from St. Louis encephalitis typically is 7 percent. Since mid-August, HRS has confirmed that 34 people across central and south Florida contracted the illness. One person in addition to Patton has slipped into a coma, Durfee said.
Symptoms can include headaches and fevers usually associated with the flu, and coma and death can eventually result from brain inflammation. In between, people can experience a stiff neck, tiredness and irritability. Other severe symptoms include extreme sleepiness, tremors and seizures.
Eight people died during the last Florida outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis in 1977. The state usually has one to three cases a year, Durfee said.
Patton's husband said his family hopes the death of the West Melbourne woman will cause residents to take warnings more seriously.
"The county needs to get serious about this virus," said Harry Patton. "They need to get spray trucks out and try to stop this thing. I know it costs a lot of money, but people's lives are at stake."