West Nile virus victims younger than those in past, CDC finds

Officials don't know why age fell from mid-60s to 55 but say drop isn't alarming

August 09, 2002

ATLANTA - For reasons health officials cannot explain, this year's victims of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus are younger than usual.

The median age for this year's infections is 55, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released yesterday. In previous years, the median was in the mid-60s.

"The reason patients seem to be younger this year is unknown and certainly something we're looking into," said Dr. Lyle Petersen, a CDC expert.

However, CDC officials said the declining median age is not a cause for immediate concern.

The CDC has reported 112 human cases this year, more than half in the past week.

Most of the human cases were in Louisiana, which has reported 71 infections and five deaths in the nation's biggest outbreak since the disease was detected in New York in 1999.

A central Mississippi man who died yesterday probably died of the West Nile virus, state health officer Ed Thompson said. He said more testing was needed to confirm preliminary results. The death would be the first outside of Louisiana in this outbreak.

Mississippi has reported more than 30 human cases of the disease. The CDC also reported human cases in Texas and Illinois. Cases were also announced this week in Washington and Alabama but came too late to be included in the CDC report.

In addition, Illinois reported its second human case yesterday, a 57-year-old man who became critically ill with encephalitis.

Kansas officials said yesterday that the virus has spread to their state, where it was found in a dead horse. In Missouri, 13 horses that died from encephalitis - a swelling of the brain - have also tested positive for West Nile at the University of Missouri's Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in Columbia.

Yesterday, the CDC announced an additional $10 million will be sent to states to fight infected mosquitoes. The agency had handed out $17 million a year, but as more states requested help, the fund didn't cover requests. About $3.7 million will be earmarked for the hardest-hit states, Louisiana and Mississippi.

All of the West Nile deaths this year have been in Louisiana.

Most people bitten by an infected mosquito will suffer no more than flu-like symptoms, but the weak and senior citizens can get encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain inflammation.

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