The Grayson County Health Department has confirmed that a Grayson County woman has died from the West Nile virus. This is the first reported death related to West Nile virus in Grayson County since the health department started monitoring human cases in 2012.
“The Grayson County Health Department recently received an official report, which met Texas Department of State Health Services Epi Case Criteria for West Nile virus, confirming the first reported death from West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease, a mosquito-borne disease, in an adult female residing in Grayson County,” Grayson County Health Department Director Amanda Ortez said in an email late Friday afternoon.
In the email, Ortez said the department would not release any information as to the identity of the deceased for “medical confidentiality and personal privacy reasons.” However, family members of a Denison woman said her doctor confirmed that she had died from the virus in a phone interview with the Herald Democrat earlier this week.
Family members said Irene Crain, 91, was ill for about two weeks before she died at her home in Denison on Sunday. It was only after her death that the family was able to confirm that she had contracted the virus. GCHD Director Amanda Ortez said she could not confirm the name of any individual, and that the department is simply reporting a West Nile-related death.
“We looked up all the symptoms (of West Nile virus) and she had all 10 of them,” daughter-in-law Kay Crain said Thursday morning.
Crain said her mother-in-law had weakness and partial paralysis, both of which are often symptoms of the viral infection.
When symptoms of her illness presented themselves, family members took Irene Crain to the hospital, where she visited Dr. Ignacio Gonzales. After nearly two weeks, family members took Irene Crain back to her home Sept. 22, Kay Crain said. She was still at her residence when she died Sept. 25.
Kay Crain said her husband spoke to Gonzales over the phone Tuesday and received the results of lab tests that confirmed that his mother had the virus. When the Herald Democrat called Gonzales’ office, a representative said the doctor could not comment on the case, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about between 70 percent and 80 percent of those who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. Only one in five people infected with the virus will develop symptoms that include headache, body ache, joint paints, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. And less than 1 percent of those infected can develop more severe symptoms including disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis connected with encephalitis and meningitis.
While severe illness is possible in all age groups, the CDC said that people over the age of 60 and those with medical conditions that hinder the immune system are at the greatest risk. The CDC also reported that nearly all people with minor cases of West Nile recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can persist for weeks to months.
The GCHD said people should take preventive measures to avoid mosquito bites and the possible transmission of West Nile virus and other diseases. In the news release, Ortez said people should dress in long sleeves and pants while outside between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Additionally, insect repellent containing DEET can repel the inspects, Ortez said.
Christine Mann, a spokesperson for the Department of State Health Services, said there have been four confirmed deaths from West Nile virus this season, with two confirmed last week. Those two cases were included on the department’s Sept. 27 report. That may not include the Grayson County death due to the reporting time.
In the event of a suspected case or death from a reportable disease, local health departments work with health care providers and laboratories to investigate the case, Mann said. Following the investigation, paperwork is filled out and confirmed with the Department of State Health Services for a confirmation of the illness.
Speaking broadly, Josh Stevenson, public information officer for the GCHD, said Thursday that when a disease like West Nile virus is suspected to be the cause of a death, the department does a thorough investigation. While it is possible a patient might have contracted the disease, Stevenson said the department makes sure it confirms it was the cause of death before releasing any information.
“Finding causality is part of our epidemiological investigation,” Stevenson said.
For Irene Crain’s family members, the last few days have been filled with memories of her life. Her funeral was held Wednesday afternoon in Denison.
Kay Crain said her mother-in-law kept going in life through continued work and giving back to the community. On the day she got sick, Irene Crain drove herself to work at the Denison SNAP Center, Kay Crain said. Crain worked at the SNAP center for over 25 years. As she got older, she reduced her workload to simply volunteering, Kay Crain said.
“She often said, ‘I don’t get paid, but I sure get a lot of hugs,’” Kay Crain said.
Herald Democrat Managing Editor William C. Wadsack contributed to this story.