First human case of West Nile virus in Pennsylvania this year

The Pennsylvania Health Department today reported the first human case of West Nile virus in Pennsylvania this year. The individual is a 36-year-old Bucks County man.

“The fact we have seen the first human infection from West Nile reminds all of us that we should take precautions to help reduce the risk of illness,” said Joel Hersh, Director of Epidemiology for the Department of Health.  “It is important to keep in mind that all Pennsylvanians -- particularly older adults and people with compromised immune systems -- should take simple precautions to reduce their risk.”   Hersh recommends these simple precautions to prevent mosquito bites, particularly for those most at risk:

  • Make sure screens fit tightly over doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out of the home.

  • Consider wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors, particularly when mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, or in areas known for having large numbers of mosquitoes.

  • When possible, reduce outdoor exposure at dawn and dusk during peak mosquito periods (usually April through October).

  • Use insect repellents according to the manufacturer’s instructions. An effective repellent will contain DEET. Consult with a pediatrician or family physician if you have questions about the use of repellent on children, as repellent is not recommended for children under the age of two months.

Pennsylvanians also can reduce the risk of West Nile virus by eliminating the places where mosquitoes breed. Mosquitoes can breed in any puddle that lasts more than four days.   “I urge all Pennsylvanians to remember to take just a few minutes to walk around their homes and get rid of stagnant water,” Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty said.  She suggests some simple steps that can be taken around the house:

  • Eliminate standing water in all types of containers, including tin cans, plastic containers, bird baths or ceramic pots.

  • Remove standing water from discarded tires.

  • Clean clogged roof gutters and drains, especially if leaves from surrounding trees tend to plug up drains.

  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools.

  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.

  • Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish.

  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.

For standing water that can’t eliminated, homeowners can buy Bti products at lawn and garden, outdoor supply, home improvement, and other stores. This naturally occurring bacterium kills mosquito larvae but is safe for people, pets, aquatic life and plants.   West Nile virus is spread to people and animals by infected mosquitoes. The virus can cause West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. While anyone can contract the virus, older adults and people with compromised immune systems are at highest risk of developing the disease.  

People with mild infections of West Nile virus may experience fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. People with more serious infections may experience high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions and paralysis. Hersh advises anyone with any of these symptoms to contact a doctor. There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus. While most people fully recover, in severe cases, hospitalization is needed.  

“Horse owners should also be concerned about West Nile virus," said Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff. “According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania had the second-leading number of reported cases of WNV-infected equine in 2003. If you haven’t already vaccinated your horses, I encourage you to contact your veterinarian about taking the necessary steps to protect them from West Nile virus.”  

Last year, West Nile virus was found in all 67 counties. It was identified in 237 people with eight deaths. There were 546 birds, 953 mosquito pools and 100 sentinel chickens samples that tested positive. Also, there were 532 horses that became ill from infection. Very few of these horses had been vaccinated against West Nile virus.  Pennsylvanians should presume that West Nile virus is present throughout the state and should take appropriate precautions.   For more information about West Nile virus, including current test results for mosquitoes, birds and horses, visit www.westnile.state.pa.us or call the Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH.

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