You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Washtenaw County woman is Michigan's first West Nile virus death this year

By Amy Biolchini

Editor's note: this story was updated at 8:45 a.m. Friday.

A Washtenaw County woman has died from West Nile virus, state health officials announced Thursday.

The woman, who is between the ages of 75 and 85, is the first Michigan death from the virus in 2012, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Further identifying information would not be immediately released.


The Culex mosquito transmits West Nile virus from birds to humans.

She was hospitalized in early August with viral meningitis, which is one of the more severe symptoms of West Nile virus.

As of Aug. 16, 30 cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Michigan this year, three of which were in the city of Detroit, and the remaineder in the following Michigan counties:

  • Macomb: 8 cases
  • Wayne: 8
  • Lapeer: 1
  • Livingston: 1
  • Ingham: 1
  • Kent: 3
  • Allegan: 1

In July, a wild turkey found near Chelsea tested positive for West Nile virus. Experts stated in July that the hot, dry conditions this summer were “very suitable for an epidemic” of West Nile virus this year.

West Nile virus is carried by birds and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes through bites. The virus can cause a mild illness to severe illness -- including encephalitis or meningitis, which are inflammations of the brain -- in humans and other animals.

People age 50 or older are more at risk for West Nile virus. Symptoms of severe infection include headache, high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

The Culex mosquito, which carries the virus, is typically active at night and will travel indoors to bite. It thrives in hot, dry summer conditions because it typically breeds in pools of water in storm drain catch basins.

If it were consistently rainy, the catch basins would have a constant flow of water and the mosquitos would not be able to hatch.

Across the country this year, a total of 693 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 26 deaths, have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is the highest year-to-date number of West Nile virus cases reported to the CDC through the second week in August since 1999, when the virus was first detected in the U.S.

Last year in Michigan, 34 people were seriously ill from West Nile virus and two people died. The fatalities did not occur in Washtenaw County.

The risk for transmission of the virus remains high throughout the summer and the fall. August and September are the months when most human cases of the virus occur in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Community Health advised people take precautions to avoid the Culex mosquitos that carry West Nile virus:

  • Make sure window and door screens aren’t broken to keep mosquitos outside
  • Empty containers with standing water
  • When outdoors, apply insect repellent that contains DEET or other approved repellent to exposed skin
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside

Washtenaw County residents can report dead birds by calling the department's West Nile virus hotline at (734) 544-6750. The department no longer tests birds for the virus.

For more information from Washtenaw County Public Health on West Nile virus, click here.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Sun, Aug 26, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

What about Oakland County?


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:57 a.m.

For those of you obsessing about detailing every single case, it is available here: The reason west nile is important is not that it is less common than lightening strikes but that it is an emerging infectious disease. There were NO cases in the U.S. prior to 1999 and now it has been picked up in 47 states. Right now it may be rare but in prime mosquito breeding conditions, it could be a lot more common.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:58 a.m.

Sorry, the link to MDCH didn't transfer in entirety:,4579,7-186-25805-75265--,00.html


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 4:20 a.m.

fear mongering propaganda. the chances of dying from west nile are extremely low. many people who contract the virus don't even have symptoms. can you imagine if we all panicked every time an elderly person died of something? this woman was between 75 and 85 according to the article. people in this age group can die from colds, breaking a bone, urinary tract infections, etc., and we're not in an uproar about any of those things.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 11:34 a.m.

There has been a record number of deaths this year across the U.S., mainly in Texas.


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

FYI there are those of us who have a suppressed immune system that this is of interest. To me, this is not "fear mongering".


Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 2:43 a.m.

Lots of missing information, all of which should be readily available and included in the article: "So far this year, 24 cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Michigan; seven of which were in Macomb County." Where were the rest of the cases in Michigan? Which counties? "A Washtenaw County woman has died from West Nile virus, state health officials announced Thursday." What part of Washtenaw County? Why the secrecy? This should be well-publicized so residents can be informed from a public health standpoint. Poor, incomplete reporting.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

The Michigan Department of Community Health will only release the information regarding the woman's identity that I have included in the article. I have updated the article with exact numbers of WNV cases across the state after the MDCH updated its tally yesterday.

MI Farmer

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Swin flu, now West Nile! and have to avoid the Culex mosquitos, oh and the cross walks!!!!


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

West Nile Virus! Finally something to panic about. Now excuse me while I get in my car and text all my friends about this while driving in heavy traffic.

Homeland Conspiracy

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 11:14 p.m.

Me too, but I'm going to grab a burger & eat while I'm driving.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

WXYZ is also reporting that she was previously healthy.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

No mention of the age of the victim -- nice coverage, guys. Also FWIW: the odds of someone in the U.S. dying from this virus are roughly one in 11.9 million. We are many times more likely to die of a lightning strike - or maybe crossing Washtenaw Ave. during rush hour. And can't help but mentioning: we always hear how wet summers breed mosquitos but THIS particular mosquito thrives in drought conditions?! Come on, time for a reality (and consistency) check.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

And contrary to what I always thought an earlier article DID explain how this particular mosquito thrives in drought conditions. Time to disregard some of our old beliefs and listen to the facts!

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

actually, she was between 75 and the article.....


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

Try reading the article... "The woman, who is between the ages of 75 and 85,"


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Can't you at least tell us WHERE in Washtenaw County she's from. It makes a difference.


Thu, Aug 16, 2012 : 8:06 p.m.

Actually it doesn't.