The first human death linked to West Nile virus in Los Angeles County was confirmed by public health officials Thursday afternoon.
Albert Shipman, 79, of Carson, spent two weeks in the hospital before succumbing to the virus, according to his family, who was still in shock when they spoke to NBC4 Thursday.
"He was just full of life," said Allan Shipman, the victim's son. "Makes you realize something as small as a mosquito can start the process of taking down a man that was so strong."
At least five people have tested positive for the mosquito-borne disease in Los Angeles County this year, according to public health officials, who announced the infections July 25.
Last year, 174 human cases of the virus were found in LA County, the second-highest count since 2004, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
"To hear that it is a virus from a mosquito -- something so simple -- you think it's fixable," said Cynthia Balla, the victim's daughter.
Shipman was a longtime respected member of the First Christian Church of Wilmington. A pastor at the church noticed Shipman looking very sick in a pew one Sunday.
"He began to cough," Pastor Earle Enesi said. "Like it was repetitious and didn't sound normal."
Officials are warning residents throughout the region, especially in the South Bay, where warmer-than-normal temperatures have public health officials focusing aggressively on vector control.
In Carson so far this year, five mosquitoes and four dead birds have tested positive for West Nile.
This week, vector control representatives went door-to-door in the city to raise awareness about getting rid of standing water in small areas like flower pots, which could be breeding grounds for mosquitos.
"People don't understand the risk and take it seriously because it is transmitted by a mosquito," said Truc Dever, with the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District. "People kind of think of it as a pest or nuisance, but they don't understand it can transmit deadly diseases that can kill you."
In LA County this year, 52 mosquitos and eight dead birds have tested positive for West Nile virus, according to the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District.
To protect themselves against the virus, residents should empty pools of stagnant water and use an insect repellent containing the strong chemical compound DEET, especially at dawn and dusk in mosquito-prone areas.
Most people infected with the virus do not become sick or have only mild symptoms including fever, headache, nausea, body aches, and a mild skin rash. If they do appear, symptoms usually occur within three to 12 days after infection. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk for developing severe symptoms, according to the LA County Department of Public Health.
Dead birds may be reported by calling 877-968-2473 or at the department's website. Stagnant swimming pools or "green pools" should be reported to the Public Health Environmental Health Bureau at 626-430-5200, or by calling a local vector control agency.
More information on West Nile Virus is available at 800-975-4448 or on the state's website.
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