West Nile kills Fresno County man — second of year in state as officials issue warning

Here’s how West Nile is spread — and what symptoms to look for after a mosquito bite

West Nile Virus can be deadly — but only one in five people who are infected by a mosquito bite will develop any symptoms, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Here's what to look for.
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West Nile Virus can be deadly — but only one in five people who are infected by a mosquito bite will develop any symptoms, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Here's what to look for.

The Fresno County Health Department confirmed Thursday a Fresno County resident has died of West Nile virus as the danger level rises in August and September.

The family of a man who died at Community Regional Medical Center on July 26 told The Fresno Bee their relative had complications from the West Nile virus and died after a brief hospital stay. The health department could not confirm a West Nile virus-related death until its investigation was concluded.

The Fresno County Coroner’s Office identified the man as Robert Diaz, 84. Diaz lived in Fresno for 65 years and was a retired lumber worker. He was married and had six children, according to his daughter.

robert diaz.jpeg
Robert Diaz, 84, died on July 26, 2019, of complications from the West Nile Virus. He is the second person in California to die of the virus in 2019, according to health officials. Contributed

In recent weeks, health officials have announced more human cases of West Nile virus. Diaz becomes the second to die of West Nile virus in California this year.

Officials in Tulare County have also reported West Nile virus activity and that area’s first human cases two weeks ago.

The family of Diaz told The Bee that the death came as a surprise. Diaz had reportedly not been sick but was hospitalized for about two weeks before his death; he initially had a seizure. His family said Diaz’s health quickly declined.

The Fresno County Health Department warned residents last month of mosquitoes carrying West Nile after dozens tested positive for the virus. Health officials also warned that August and September are peak months for West Nile activity.

“Everyone should increase efforts to protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites,” said Dr. Ken Bird, the county’s deputy health officer.

Diaz lived in the area of Highway 41 and Belmont Avenue, according to his family. The health department visited Diaz’s home a day before he died to inspect for mosquitoes. Officials have continually done inspections across the state for mosquito activity.

The family held memorial services for Diaz earlier this month. A GoFundMe has been set up to help Diaz’s family pay for expenses after his death.

“His senseless death is unbearable for all of his family,” Diaz’s daughter, Angelica Martinez, wrote in the GoFundMe page and in a message she shared with The Bee.

Mosquito activity in California

Another Fresno County woman is at Clovis Community Hospital after she was bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus, according to a GoFundMe set up by her daughter.

On Thursday, Fresno County health officials also announced a “severe” positive case of Saint Louis Encephalitis.

Experts have warned of the rising threat by mosquitoes this year.

At least one other Californian has died of the West Nile virus. He was 74-year-old Robert Mears of Bombay Beach, Imperial County, who died July 4. His symptoms began to appear a month before, according to the his family.

As of Thursday, the state website that tracks West Nile virus activity had recorded 25 counties where mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus. Human cases have been reported in nine counties, including Fresno, Stanislaus and Tulare. The numbers have increased over the past few weeks.

To reduce the risk of being infected by a mosquito carrying West Nile, health officials suggest applying insect repellent containing DEET, picaradin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus, as well as wearing proper clothing at dawn and dusk, and draining all standing water around homes or properties.

Residents are also encouraged to report dead wild birds, since they are the main host of the West Nile virus and can transmit it to mosquitoes who feed on them.

This story was updated on Aug. 23 at 2:25 p.m. to correct Diaz’s age. He was 84.

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Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a general assignment reporter at The Fresno Bee. He grew up in Porterville and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Fresno State. He is a former student editor at the Fresno State and Fresno City College newspapers. His hobbies include reading, sleeping, running and taking care of his dog.