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Killed by a bite: Family laments Fargo man who died from West Nile

FARGO - A 76-year-old Fargo man died this week after contracting the West Nile virus, according to his family, who hopes his death helps raise local awareness about the mosquito-borne virus.Arnold Thomas Esterby died Sunday, Aug. 28, at Sanford H...

West Nile death
Cheryl Esterby wants the public to take precautions against West Nile virus after losing her husband to the disease.David Samson / The Forum

FARGO – A 76-year-old Fargo man died this week after contracting the West Nile virus, according to his family, who hopes his death helps raise local awareness about the mosquito-borne virus.

Arnold Thomas Esterby died Sunday, Aug. 28, at Sanford Health. His wife, Cheryl Esterby, said a doctor at the hospital told her that he tested positive for West Nile and that his death was reported to state health officials.

Laura Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health, said Wednesday, Aug. 31, that the state has not yet confirmed any West Nile deaths this year. Citing privacy laws, Cronquist declined to say whether the department is looking into Esterby’s case, but she said the state will make an announcement if and when the state’s first West Nile death is confirmed.
Esterby lived just south of North High School and worked as a facilities maintenance man at the Fargo Jet Center. His family said they believe he contracted the virus through a mosquito bite around here, given that he had not recently left the area.

“He doesn’t travel,” said his son, Kent Esterby. “He walks the dog. He grills out. He does the yard work. It’s not like he came back from, you know, some weird country where he contracted anything.”

People of any age can become seriously ill from West Nile, but those over 60 years old are at the greatest risk. Also at risk are organ transplant recipients and people with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure.
Esterby’s son said his father took medication to manage his high blood pressure, but otherwise he was in good shape.


“He was a healthy man, but age was against him, of course,” his wife said.

So far this year, 26 nonfatal cases of West Nile have been detected in North Dakota, including eight in Cass County, according to the state Health Department.

In 2015, North Dakota recorded 23 cases of West Nile, including one death, and the state saw the same number of cases in 2014, including two deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No West Nile deaths have been confirmed in Minnesota this year, but there have been 14 nonfatal cases. Five of those were reported in Clay County, which has been a hotspot for the virus, said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Health Department.

West Nile symptoms – fever, headache, body aches or a rash – can surface up to two weeks after someone is bitten. Severe symptoms can include a stiff neck, confusion, paralysis, coma or death. However, 70 to 80 percent of people with the virus don’t show any symptoms.

Esterby had flu-like symptoms for about a week before he went to the hospital Aug. 24. Once admitted, his condition never improved. “There was nothing they could do,” his wife said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Esterby’s wife sat on her patio as mosquitoes buzzed around her in the shade. She said her husband’s death has left the family uneasy about being outside and being bitten.

“That’s what killed him was a mosquito bite, so it’s kind of freaky,” said his daughter, Kelli Theademan.

Cheryl Esterby said her family never thought about West Nile until now. She said she hopes her husband’s death makes people more aware of the virus.
Kent Esterby said he’d like to see more research into West Nile, a virus for which there’s no vaccine or cure. Cheryl Esterby said she’d like to see more spraying for mosquitoes.


Ben Prather, director of the Cass County Vector Control, said spraying by airplane was planned for Wednesday evening. He said his agency has been spraying by plane and truck this week to combat a “healthy brood of mosquitoes in the metro area.”

Despite aggressive spraying, Prather said, it’s lately been a losing effort against the high number of mosquitoes. He said the mosquito count isn’t record-breaking. “It’s just uniformly bad.”

Prather advised Red River Valley residents to wear long sleeves and long pants to limit their exposure. “Definitely, do not leave the bug spray at home,” he said. “Put it on anytime you're outside.”


Related Topics: CASS COUNTY
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