Four Minnesotans dies of West Nile Rochester man is among them

By Jeff Hansel

At least four Minnesotans -- including a Rochester man -- have died of West Nile virus this year, state and local officials said Tuesday.

Dr. David Dahlin, 86, a retired longtime Mayo Clinic surgical pathologist and expert on bone tumors, was the second person reported to die from West Nile in Minnesota this year, his family confirmed.

But his death Friday has not yet been included in the official state count of West Nile cases.


Dahlin's son Brian said the physician could have been infected in Minnesota before or after a whitewater canoe trip on the Yellowstone River in mid-August. But, he said, "my guess is it was while we were on the river out there."

Kari Etrheim, senior public health educator at Olmsted County Public Health, confirmed a man died from West Nile in Olmsted County on Friday, but she gave few specifics because of privacy rules.

Speaking about the death, but not confirming the man was Dahlin, she said the victim "did travel outside the county prior to onset of illness. Really, he could have contracted this anywhere.

"Unfortunately, West Nile virus is around, and mosquitoes don't know county borders or state borders and, no matter where we are, we're going to have to take precautions," she said.

The Minnesota Department of Health was unable to confirm the death was West Nile-related because the state laboratory hadn't yet had time to review records. But the department did say an 82-year-old Chippewa County man also died Friday after being infected with West Nile. He became ill in early August and was hospitalized with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Also on Tuesday, the health department sent out another public notice saying a third state-confirmed case occurred in an 84-year-old Kandiyohi County man who developed encephalitis after becoming ill in late August. He, too, died.

That brings the official count of Minnesota West Nile cases this year to 54 people, three of whom have died. The first person to die this year was a Clay County man in his 70s. His was the first death in the state from West Nile since it was reported in Minnesota in July 2002. But the numbers do not include the Olmsted County West Nile death, which was confirmed by the county's public health office.

"West Nile can be serious and life-threatening. We've gotten reports of more cases this year and we would expect to see some deaths every year," said Doug Schultz, a state health department spokesman.


He said at least five of the people with confirmed West Nile exposure in Minnesota this year were exposed in Western states, where a higher percentage of fatalities have occurred.

Dahlin, who had been living in Rochester and enjoyed a daily walk outside, wrote the premier textbook about bone tumors. The first edition of the book, "Bone Tumors: General Aspects and an Analysis of 2,276 Cases" was printed in 1957. It has been updated periodically ever since.

"He did a lot of great things, and I think he was one of the best in the business of surgical pathology in the world," said Dr. Krishnan Unni, who collaborated with Dahlin on recent editions of the text book.

Krishnan said Dahlin continued to share his knowledge throughout retirement and remained a down-to-earth and gentle mentor.

"If there was an opposite word to the word 'pomposity,' he would be it," Krishnan said.

"I still showed him difficult cases, and I always expected wise counsel from him. I had lunch with him practically every day. So I'll miss his company," he said.

Brian Dahlin said his father grew up on a farm during the Depression. His family members were tenant farmers or sharecroppers and moved often.

"He didn't like working behind a team of horses all summer, so he worked his way through medical school," he said.


Dahlin, a native of Beresford, S.D., served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and entered Mayo Graduate School of Medicine following his discharge. He became a professor of pathology in the graduate school in 1961 and in the medical school in 1973. He was department chairman from 1970 to 1981. He retired in 1983.

A version of this story appeared in some editions Monday.

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