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An elderly Yellowstone County man died recently from West Nile virus after a short stay at a Billings hospital, RiverStone Health announced Wednesday.

This is the first death in Montana associated with West Nile virus since 2016, said a news release from RiverStone Health and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

As of Aug. 29, there were 19 confirmed cases of the virus in Montana. Cases were diagnosed in multiple counties, including Carbon, Cascade, Lewis and Clark, McCone, Roosevelt, Toole, Valley and Yellowstone. Two of the cases were diagnosed in Yellowstone County.

In Montana, West Nile season usually begins in July and ends in October. The number of human infections in the state varies each year.

According to the news release, since 2003, when tracking of the virus began, Montana has had two years with more than 200 cases recorded, in 2003 and 2007. The average number of cases is 36.

Fewer than 10 cases were reported in nine of those years. Last year, the number of human cases totaled 11.

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Not all mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, which is spread through bites. With no vaccine, the emphasis remains on prevention, the news release said.

That includes: 

  • Using insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
  • Draining standing water around the home.
  • Being aware that mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when spending time outdoors.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will experience no symptoms, the news release said. Those who do may experience headache, muscle aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or a rash. 

Less than one in 100 people who do become infected develop serious infections in or around the brain. Serious symptoms include headache, rash, high fever, stiff neck and mental confusion.

For more information, visit the DPHHS website at https://dphhs.mt.gov.

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