Tuesday, September 30, 2003

West Nile suspected in death of 89-year-old Fort Thomas woman

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT THOMAS - A local woman could be Kentucky's first death from West Nile virus this year.

Doctors at St. Luke Hospital East told relatives of Erma Margaret Haverkamp Gutfreund that they believe the 89-year-old woman died Friday from complications of the West Nile virus.

More tests are pending at the Kentucky Public Health Lab in Frankfort."It will probably be seven to 10 days before we hear anything,'' Peggy Patterson, spokeswoman for the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department, said Monday.

Gutfreund's death would be Kentucky's and Greater Cincinnati's first West Nile virus fatality this year, if confirmed, Kentucky and Ohio health officials said.

Kentucky has had six confirmed West Nile cases this year, compared with 40 at this time last year, said Gwenda Bond, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services.

One of the six confirmed cases is a Grant County resident who is recovering at home.

Until a few weeks ago, Gutfreund was "the epitome of health and energy," said her daughter, Sarah Jo McVickers of Wilder. She said nothing slowed down the former nurse's aide, not even a pacemaker she received about 10 years ago.

"Every day on her social schedule there was something to see, something to do,'' said the victim's son, Martin John Gutfreund of Bradenton, Fla. "That's why this was such a shock."

The Fort Thomas widow enjoyed working in her garden and was a "sharp lady who balanced her checkbook without a calculator,'' said her daughter, Mary Frances Shelton of Naperville, Ill. Gutfreund walked to Mass each morning at nearby St. Therese Church in Southgate, and she was active in the church's Over 50 Club, the Super Senior Club in Southgate, and the Thursday 500 Card Club.

Gutfreund first complained of a headache, lack of appetite and body aches Sept. 5, and she was admitted to the hospital a week later.

Despite excellent care, she quickly worsened, eventually suffering from extreme fatigue and paralysis, her son said.

The West Nile virus is spread to humans from a bite from an infected mosquito. However, even in areas where West Nile virus is circulating, less than 1 percent of people who are bitten will become seriously ill, health officials said.

Bond said residents should: use mosquito repellant with DEET; get rid of sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed; and wear light-colored, long-sleeve shirts, and pants and a hat when outside between dusk and dawn.


E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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