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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Famed Washington grape grower stricken with West Nile virus

RICHLAND, Wash. -- A Horse Heaven Hills grape grower is among the first suspected human cases of West Nile virus in the Mid-Columbia this year.

Paul Champoux, owner of Champoux Vineyards and former chairman of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, was recovering at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland on Thursday after being ill for weeks.

An e-mail Champoux and his wife, Judy, sent to the grape growers association said Champoux was sent to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland after being sick with what he thought was the flu.

Judy Champoux declined an interview request Thursday, saying the e-mailed statement was all the couple wanted to say.

The e-mail said Champoux had severely inflamed muscles and couldn't move his arms, legs or body for several days. The West Nile diagnosis came after 13 days and several tests, but still hasn't been definitively confirmed by the state.

Jeff Martin, environmental health specialist for the Klickitat County Health Department, couldn't release names but said two people were presumed to have West Nile virus in the area of Alderdale Road near the Benton County border. Champoux's vineyard is on Alderdale Road.

Martin said samples from the two people believed to have West Nile were tested by the state and came back positive, but now have been sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control for final confirmation.

The Benton-Franklin Health District announced Aug. 6 that officials believed they'd found their first human case of West Nile virus in a Prosser resident. That person was not hospitalized.

Dr. Larry Jecha, the district's health officer, said at the time that the sample collected from the Prosser resident tested positive in a local lab and was sent to the state for confirmation.

The state Department of Health, however, was still reporting no human cases in Washington state as of Thursday afternoon.

West Nile has been present in the United States since 1999, and in Washington since 2005. Benton County saw its first infected birds and horses last year, but no human cases, although a Seattle resident who tested positive for the virus in 2008 reportedly had traveled through Prosser.

Birds carry the disease and mosquitoes pick it up when they bite birds. Then mosquitoes pass it on to horses or humans through bites.

Most people who become infected show no symptoms. But up to 20 percent of those infected could suffer from a fever, headache, body aches, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash.

About one in 150 infected people may develop more severe symptoms that last several weeks and can cause permanent neurological damage or death. People over 50 are more likely to develop severe symptoms.

Champoux's e-mail said he is in rehab at Kadlec and will make a full recovery.

He urged others to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

"It only takes one mosquito," he said. "West Nile virus is here and will be here. All precautions and warnings should be taken seriously and we should be reminded every year."

To reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile:

-- Eliminate sources of standing water.

-- Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are active.

-- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in mosquito-infested areas.

-- Use mosquito repellents containing DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus and Picardin.

-- Make sure screen doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly.