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Powell man first Wyoming resident to die of West Nile this year

A 74-year-old rural Powell man is believed to be the first Wyoming resident to die of West Nile virus in 2013.

Raymond “Ray” Teitsch died at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Mont., on Aug. 26.

The Yellowstone County, Montana, Clerk and Recorder lists encephalitis and West Nile virus as the causes of Teitsch’s death. West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation.

Teitsch’s wife, Carol Teitsch, also said her husband died of West Nile virus. He is the 16th Wyoming resident to die of West Nile virus since the illness was first detected here in 2002.

The Wyoming Department of Health would only confirm that a Park County man died of West Nile virus, but spokeswoman Kim Deti said it could not reveal the victim’s name.

“We are unable to provide information related to a patient’s identity due to privacy concerns,” Deti said.

Teitsch, a Bremen, Ind., native, had a lifelong love of the outdoors, and first came to the West on hunting trips, according to his wife of nearly 42 years. He did construction work and was employed by Deaver Irrigation at the time of his death.

“He worked eight hours a day,” Carol Teitsch said Tuesday. “He could out-work a man half his age.”

But on Aug. 16, Ray Teitsch came home early from work.

“He wasn’t feeling good,” she said. “His lymph nodes by his left ear, front and behind, were swollen.”

By Sunday he was in “excruciating pain,” and was losing muscle strength in his left arm and hand, Carol Teitsch said. By night he had fallen a couple times and had lost muscle control of his left leg.

Carol Teitsch, who also was not feeling well, said she called an ambulance around 2:30 a.m. Aug. 19. Her husband was taken to Powell Valley Hospital, where his condition grew more grave. The last time they spoke, she said, he asked how she was, and then told her he loved her.

Ray Teitsch soon was unresponsive and on a ventilator, she said. He was flown to the Billings hospital that night, but his condition never improved.

He died five days later. He had been diagnosed with leukemia, Carol Teitsch said, and she was told that a combination of that illness, even though it had been in remission for four years, and his age likely contributed to his death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most people who become infected with West Nile virus — 70 to 80 percent — do not develop any symptoms. About one in five people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Most people with this type of West Nile virus disease recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

Fewer than 1 percent of people who are infected will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues). Recovery may take weeks or months, and about 10 percent of people who develop neurologic infection due to West Nile virus will die.

There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatments for West Nile virus infection.

West Nile virus is on the rise in the state, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

“We have definitely seen an uptick in WNV cases in Wyoming over the last few weeks,” said Emily Thorp, WDH surveillance epidemiologist. “South Dakota, a neighboring state, is experiencing a particularly active WNV season and WNV reports have recently gone up across the country.”

Ten confirmed cases have been reported so far from Fremont County, and there has been one case each from Platte and Natrona counties, in addition to the Park County fatal case. The Wyoming Department of Health is following up on additional potential cases.

In Wyoming last year, seven human WNV cases were reported with no deaths, according to the state. Since WNV first appeared in Wyoming in 2002, the annual numbers of reported human cases have ranged from two with no deaths in 2002 to 393 cases and nine deaths in 2003.

The last WNV-related death in the state was in 2009, according to state Department of Health statistics.

Teitsch is the 11th Park County resident to have West Nile virus, but the first since 2007, when three people acquired it, and the first person from the county to die of it in almost eight years. Richard C. “Craig” Baird, 53, died of it on Oct. 4, 2005, also at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings. There were six cases in the county in 2003, but no fatalities that year.

(The Tribune’s Sandy Thiel contributed to this report.)

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1 comment

  • posted by Dewey

    September 05, 2013 3:16 pm

    Excellent reporting, especially in getting past the bogus wall put up by Public Health bureaucrats to withhold matters of great public health concern.

    WNV is mosquito-borne but can also be vectored by ticks and even handling a dead bird carcass in rare cases. Yet I see nothing in this article about preventative measures. You would think our public health agencies would be a little more proactive on this...

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