2 West Nile Virus deaths reported in Shelby County

2 West Nile Virus deaths reported in Shelby County

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - So far this year, there have been three human cases of West Nile in Tennessee.

Two of those victims were from Shelby County, and both of them died.

The Shelby County Health Department says the number of cases is not unusual, but the two deaths are.

Roughly 80 percent of people infected by West Nile Virus will have no symptoms, according to the Shelby County Health Department.

The virus only hospitalizes a small percentage of people infected.

Robert Garland spent most of his days outside repairing lawn equipment.

"He'd be out there in the morning, late at night, he may go to sleep out there because that was his spot," said Sharon Thaxton, Garland's daughter.

The 88-year-old Army veteran's family believes that's where he became infected with West Nile virus last month.

"We thought he had a stroke," Thaxton said. "We called 911. We got him to a hospital and it wasn't a stroke."

Thaxton's father died a few days after doctors diagnosed him with the virus. His was the second West Nile Virus death in Shelby County in 2018.

"It was so shocking, you know, because you know it wasn't known out here in 38114," she said.

Memphis's longstanding history of mosquito-borne diseases dates back to the 1800's with the yellow fever epidemic. Partly due to that tragic past, Shelby County dedicates health resources to closely monitoring mosquitoes.

"This year is not particularly unusual in terms of number of cases. We've had two cases diagnosed so far, what is unfortunate and unusual is that both of the cases we have had have turned into fatalities," said David Sweat, Chief Epidemiologist for the Shelby County Health Department.

In recent years, 2002 showed the highest number of human cases of West Nile Virus with 40 people in Shelby County diagnosed.

Of the infected, seven people died according to the Shelby County Health Department.

David Sweat, the department's Chief Epidemiologist, said the number of infected people could always be higher since most people never have symptoms, and those who do typically mistake it for the flu.

The death of Thaxton's father has her sharing this message.

"I am telling them to be careful and wear bug spray and long sleeves," she said.

The health department says it human cases of the virus can be diagnosed through September/ October.

Click here for more information on West Nile Virus and the county's mosquito surveillance program.

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