First confirmed human case of West Nile virus in Pennsylvania

State Health Secretary Dr. Calvin B. Johnson has reported this year's first confirmed human case of West Nile virus in Pennsylvania. The individual, a 56-year-old Clearfield County man, is recovering and has been discharged from the hospital.

"Every case of human infection from West Nile is a reminder that we can take precautions to help reduce the risk of illness," Dr. Johnson said. "The chance of contracting West Nile virus from an infected mosquito is small, and your chances of becoming seriously ill are even smaller. However, it is important to remember that everyone -- particularly older adults and people with compromised immune systems -- should take simple steps to reduce their risk."

Secretary Johnson recommended 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 your home;
  • When possible, reduce outdoor exposure at dawn and dusk, the times of day when the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus are most active, during the warmer months of the year (usually April through October);
  • Consider wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors, particularly at dawn and dusk, or in areas known for having large numbers of mosquitoes;
  • Use insect repellents according to the manufacturer's instructions. Effective repellents contain DEET. Consult a doctor if you have concerns about the use of repellent on young children, as repellent is not recommended for children under the age of two months. Two other insect repellants, Picaridin (KBR 3023) and oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant based repellent, were tested against mosquitoes and provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.

Pennsylvanians also can reduce the risk of West Nile virus by eliminating the places where mosquitoes breed. Mosquitoes can breed in standing water that is present for four or more days.

"The Department of Environmental Protection and our county partners are working hard to eliminate mosquitoes and mosquito breeding sites in public areas, but we need homeowners to help," DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty said. "If there is standing water on your property, remember our advice: 'dump it, drain it, treat it.'"

McGinty suggested some simple steps that can be taken around the house:

  • Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, discarded tires, or any object on your property that could collect standing water.
  • Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.
  • Have roof gutters cleaned every year, particularly if the leaves from nearby trees have a tendency to clog the drains.
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
  • Don't let water stagnate in birdbaths.
  • Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools and remove standing water from pool covers.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property.
  • Standing water that cannot be eliminated should be treated with Bti products, which are sold at outdoor supply, home improvement, and other stores. Bti is a naturally occurring bacterium that 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. Usually, the infection does not result in any illness. Older adults and persons with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk of becoming ill after a West Nile infection.

The disease can take two forms. The milder form is known as West Nile fever. In addition to fever, people with this form of the disease may also experience headache, body aches, skin rash, and swollen lymph glands. The more severe form of West Nile infection is known as encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain). People with encephalitis may experience high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and coma. Dr. Johnson advises anyone with any of these symptoms to immediately contact their health care provider.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus. For severe cases, hospitalization is needed and illness can be associated with long-term disabilities and death.

Since it was first identified in Pennsylvania in 2000, West Nile virus has been found in all areas of the state and has returned each summer. Pennsylvanians should presume that West Nile virus is present throughout the state during the warmer periods of the year and should take appropriate precautions.

In 2006 there were nine human cases of West Nile virus and two related deaths. In 2005 there were 25 human cases and two related deaths. In 2004 there were 15 cases of human West Nile virus, resulting in two fatalities. For more information about West Nile virus, including current test results for mosquitoes, birds and horses, visit the West Nile virus website at or call the Department of Health at 1-877-PA HEALTH.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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