CHICAGO, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- An 81-year-old woman from East Baton Rouge Parish became the ninth West Nile virus fatality in Louisiana Thursday, and state public health officials reported 17 new cases of the virus.
Federal health officials reported Thursday a fourth person has tested positive for the disease after receiving an organ transplant from a person infected with the virus. Officials also are investigating a case in Mississippi in which a patient developed the disease after receiving a blood transfusion.
In Louisiana, West Nile was reported for the first time in two additional parishes. The disease now has been confirmed in 222 humans in 24 parishes across the state, the most cases in the nation. The largest increase was in Rapides Parish, which jumped from one to five cases.
Dr. Raoult Ratard, state epidemiologist, had predicted there might be an increase in that area.
"Our surveillance system is extremely effective in determining where the virus is present," Ratard said. "Whenever we have discovered a large number of dead birds that are positive for the virus, we can predict with near certainty that human West Nile cases will follow. This was true especially in Rapides where there has not been an established mosquito control program."
Public health officials in Illinois reported 46 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 211, including eight deaths.
The national case count stood at 854 confirmed cases and 43 deaths, federal health officials announced late Thursday.
Louisiana had eight deaths; Ohio, five; Mississippi and Michigan three; Tennessee four; Georgia, Kentucky, and New York two apiece; and Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Texas, one apiece, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
"How long this outbreak will continue depends on many factors, including the weather and the extent to which we can adequately control the mosquito population," said Dr. John R. Lumpkin, Illinois public health director. "The biggest influence on human cases, however, will be whether or not people follow the precautions that have been recommended, such as using repellent and doing the common sense things they can do to avoid mosquito bites."
Most of Illinois' nine deaths have been in the Chicago area but the two most recent fatalities were in central Illinois, showing the virus is continuing to spread. Of 46 new cases reported Wednesday, 13 were in Chicago and 25 suburban Cook County.
In Michigan, authorities were awaiting confirmation of two suspected West Nile deaths as the number of cases statewide reached 34. A Royal Oak man said doctors told him his 81-year-old wife died Tuesday of symptoms that resembled West Nile encephalitis. She had been bitten by mosquitoes during a recent auto show.
Officials in Oakland County, where half of the state's infections have occurred, launched a mosquito eradication program modeled after agricultural efforts to control gypsy moths. "We're not going to get rid of West Nile," said Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson, but we are going to reduce the mosquito population with limited spraying to limit human exposure to toxic insecticides.
Two Maryland residents tested positive for West Nile virus Wednesday, bringing that state's caseload to four, state health officials said. A 69-year-old Baltimore man remained hospitalized, but a 29-year-old woman from Prince George's County was released from the hospital. Maryland had three West Nile fatalities in 2001.
Indiana state health officials waited for laboratory test results on a 65-year-old Allen County resident who could be that state's first West Nile fatality. South Dakota reported its seventh human infection and North Dakota said an elderly man who died in a Fargo hospital last week probably had the virus. Doctors ordered tests on blood samples,
Health experts said the number of West Nile cases could begin to fall later this month as temperatures cool and mosquitoes become less active but a bird expert in Glenview, Ill., said he's concerned that the virus has decimated the region's population of crows.
"You walk out in the morning and its dead quiet out there," Biff Thiele told the Chicago Tribune.
Illinois has identified the virus in more than 2,000 dead birds and found infections in all of the state's counties.
Residents of Shaker Heights in suburban Cleveland were scheduled to meet Thursday night to decide if the city should begin large-scale spraying after a 47-year-old woman was diagnosed with probable West Nile virus.
There have been no confirmed West Nile cases in Canada, but five cases are suspected in Ontario.
(With additional reporting by Steve Mitchell, UPI Medical Correspondent, in Washington)