Gwinnett woman is region’s 1st West Nile fatality of 2012

An elderly woman in Gwinnett County is metro Atlanta’s first death this year from the West Nile disease, Channel 2 Action News reported.

The 78-year-old victim, whose name was not disclosed, died within the past month and was one of four deaths out of 44 cases so far this year in Georgia attributed to the mosquito-borne disease. Two other deaths were in Dougherty County, and one was in Early County.

The 44 cases are twice last year’s total for the state, making this year the worst ever for the disease in Georgia, Channel 2 reported. The state had three West Nile deaths in 2011.

In metro Atlanta, five cases each have been reported this year in Cobb and DeKalb counties; two each in Fulton, Gwinnett and Douglas counties, and one each in Forsyth and Clayton counties, state health officials report.

A total of 147 people out of 1,816 cases nationwide have died from the disease in 2012, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people exposed to the virus experience no symptoms, experts say. One in five may develop mild symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, swollen lymph glands or skin rash.

About one in 150 will become severely ill with high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, vision loss and other serious symptoms, according to the CDC. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk.

To avoid contracting the disease, people are urged to wear insect repellent, particularly those containing the chemical DEET; wear loose, long clothing; empty all forms of standing water, including flower pot saucers, bird baths or puddles; and make sure window screens are intact.

The threat of the mosquito-bourne illness persists until the first hard frost, authorities said.

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— Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this article.