A 57-year-old Toledo woman who died last weekend from West Nile virus is the first this year in Lucas County to succumb to the mosquito-borne disease, said David Grossman, the Lucas County health commissioner.
Diane Wlodarski, a former kindergarten teacher and the mother of seven adult children, died Saturday at Hospice of Northwest Ohio. Although many people contract the West Nile virus each year, fatalities are more rare. Ms. Wlodarski’s death is only the second confirmed death in Lucas County in 11 years.
Ms. Wlodarski began to feel flulike symptoms, nausea, and weakness around three weeks ago, said Karen Declercq, her sister. She went to Toledo Hospital’s emergency room to seek treatment.
“They treated her for dehydration and sent her home, but the next day, when she went to see her own doctor, he took one look at her and said, ‘I’m admitting you,’ ” Ms. Declercq said.
After being admitted Oct. 2 to the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital, her condition quickly deteriorated. Her doctors seemed “a bit shocked” by her failure to respond to the high-powered antibiotics and anti-viral drugs they administered, Ms. Declercq said.
“By Friday, she was less and less responsive. She was not communicating. She was not getting out of bed,” her sister said. “On Sunday, we finally got the diagnosis. One of the blood tests came back positive. It was the West Nile virus.”
Ms. Wlodarski also suffered from scleroderma, a disease that compromises the autoimmune system. Doctors told the family having scleroderma made it more difficult for her to fight off West Nile.
“The doctors told us there is no treatment and that your own body has to fight it off,” Ms. Declercq said. “What’s important to understand is that you or I could be bitten by that same mosquito and not get sick, but since she had a compromised immune system, she could not fight the virus.”
While people of all ages can be infected with West Nile, those 50 or older or with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk for death or serious illness from West Nile, said Chris Westover, spokesman for the Monroe County Health Department.
West Nile cases have been on the rise both nationally and in Michigan, Mr. Westover said. So far this year, 15 cases of the disease have been reported in Michigan, with one death. The Ohio Department of Health has received reports of 20 cases in the state and three deaths this year.
Many cases go unreported, however, because most people bitten by an infected mosquito have minor, if any, symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 1 percent of people infected with West Nile virus have severe or neurological symptoms.
While the peak summer mosquito season is over, virus-carrying mosquitoes remain a threat until fall’s first frost.
Health officials urge the public to remain vigilant by applying insect repellent that contains DEET, avoiding being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.