BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health on Friday, Sept. 10, announced the state's first West Nile virus-related death this year.

The person was a southwest North Dakota resident over the age of 60, the health department said in a news release. There have been 19 human West Nile cases reported so far in 2021, of which 10 resulted in hospitalizations.

“People older than 60 years, or those who have underlying health issues, are at the greatest risk of developing a severe illness due to (West Nile virus) infection. The individual’s death is a tragic reminder of how dangerous (West Nile virus) can be,” health department epidemiologist Amanda Bakken said in the release.

Last year, the state had seven West Nile cases and no related deaths, state health officials said.

West Nile is most commonly spread to people by an infected mosquito, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. Eight out of 10 people infected with West Nile do not experience symptoms, according to the CDC.

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In severe cases, however, the North Dakota Department of Health says the virus can cause "high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, altered mental state, and death."

The health department says the number of West Nile cases in North Dakota usually peaks in late summer. Until frost can eliminate the mosquito population, the department urges people to protect themselves from mosquito bites. If a person is experiencing symptoms related to West Nile, they should see a health care provider immediately.

NDDoH recommends the following to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellent
  • Wear protective clothing outdoors, like long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Limit outdoor activities between dusk and dawn
  • Get rid of stagnant water in containers near homes where mosquitos can lay eggs
  • Install window screens to keep mosquitos out of homes
  • Keep a well-trimmed yard and landscape around homes

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.