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Stevens County woman first West Nile virus fatality in Minnesota in 2012

File photo: Ben Prather, vector control director for Cass County shows off a Culex tarsalis specimen, Culex tarsalis is type of mosquito known to be a carrier of West Nile, June 29, 2012 in West Fargo, ND. Jesse Trelstad / The Forum

MORRIS - An elderly Stevens County woman has died after contracting West Nile virus, the first death in the state of Minnesota this year.

A second Stevens County resident contracted the less severe version of the disease, West Nile fever, in early August, but has since recovered, said Dave Neitzel of the Minnesota Department of Health.

As of Wednesday, there have been 27 confirmed cases of West Nile virus in 18 Minnesota counties, the Minnesota Department of health reported. The virus as also been found in 12 blood donors across the state.

At this time, officials have not determined where the elderly woman may have contracted the virus, but Stevens County is the high risk area of the state because the type of mosquito that most commonly carries West Nile virus is common in open prairie and agricultural areas, said Neitzel.

Since West Nile virus was first discovered in Minnesota in 2002, most of the cases have been found in the west central and southwest sections of the state.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-transmitted virus that can cause central nervous system diseases like encephalitis or meningitis in some people. Around 80 percent of people who are infected with West Nile are able to fight off the illness and show no symptoms.

Most who do become sick contract the less severe form of the disease, West Nile fever, which causes a fever, headache and body aches. The approximately 1 in 150 people bitten by mosquitoes infected by West Nile virus will contract encephalitis or meningitis; symptoms include neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and paralysis.

The most high-risk time for contracting West Nile virus is between mid-July and mid-September, said Neitzel.

The best way to protect against West Nile virus is to protect against mosquitos - wear mosquito repellant containing up to 30 percent DEET (or 10 percent for children), wear long sleeve shirts and pants, avoid activities outdoors at dawn and dusk - peak mosquito feeding times, and eliminate water-holding containers from your property to help reduce the numbers of some mosquito species.