11/23/2012 05:06 EST | Updated 01/23/2013 05:12 EST

Hamilton man dies of West Nile virus

A Hamilton man has died of West Nile Virus, the first local death in what has been a record year for the disease in the city.

Antonio Occhiuto, 82, died Thursday at Hamilton General hospital after what his family said was “a courageous battle with West Nile virus.”

Hamilton Public Health Services confirmed that there has been a West Nile death.

"We can't supply medical information related to an identified individual under PHIPA. We can say that Hamilton Public Health Services has had one death attributed to West Nile Virus this year," communications officer Tara Hall said in an email to CBC News Friday.

She added that Hamilton Public Health Services is not aware of any other cases of West Nile in hospitalized patients.

Occhiuto’s obituary describes him as a husband of more than 50 years, father to four and grandfather—or “Nanuzze” as his family affectionately calls him — to six. He will be laid to rest on Monday.

This is the sole West Nile-related death in Hamilton after a record number of infections this season. Confirmed West Nile cases climbed to 249 in the province this year, including 20 people infected in Hamilton. Of them, seven were hospitalized.

Though Toronto topped the list with the highest number of reported cases at more than 90 by autumn, Hamilton had the fourth highest number of reported cases in the province.

Four other deaths were also reported in Ontario as a result of the virus, which grows more quickly in mosquitos when the weather is warmer.

In October, when the temperatures dropped, Hamilton Public Health Services thought the public was mostly out of the woods in terms of new infections. But, since symptoms usually take several weeks to emerge, anyone infected in September may not have known until after the fall weather arrived.

Fiona Hunter, a biological science professor at Brock University and West Nile specialist, told the CBC that the high number of infections could have been due, in part, to a lack of concern from the general public. She suspects many people weren’t taking precautions seriously, in part due to the low number of reported cases over the past few years.

“People get tired of seeing messages about protecting themselves,” she said. “But this was the year there ought to have been a big campaign.”

The numbers for West Nile in Hamilton previously peaked at 15 cases in 2002, which was also a record year in Ontario with more than 394 cases and 19 deaths.

What are the symptoms of West Nile?

Symptoms are usually mild and include fever, headache, body aches, sometimes a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Severe infection is marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor and disorientation. It can sometimes lead to coma, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and occasionally death.

Anyone with symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

There is no documented evidence that a pregnant woman or her fetus are at increased risk due to infection with West Nile virus.

If illness occurs, it usually happens within five to 15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito.