Health, Sci-Tech

First human case of West Nile virus this year confirmed in Baltimore metro area

BALTIMORE, MD—The Maryland Department of Health on Wednesday announced that an adult living in the Baltimore metropolitan area has tested positive for the West Nile virus – the first confirmed human case of the virus in Maryland this year.

The West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes who have been infected by feeding on birds who have the virus. In rare instances, the virus may be spread from person to person through organ donation, blood transfusion, breastfeeding, or from pregnant mother to fetus.

The disease affects the nervous system, and up to 80 percent of people who are infected will not display any signs of illness at all. Those who have underlying health conditions, however, could become seriously ill.

“This is the season when we start to see West Nile virus spread in Maryland, so we urge people to be vigilant and take steps to avoid infection,” said MDH Deputy Secretary for Public Health, Dr. Jinlene Chan. “Disease surveillance teams are closely monitoring increasing numbers of infected mosquitoes that have turned up in several areas across the state.”

West Nile virus was detected in the United States for the first time in 1999, and the number of Marylanders infected with the virus fluctuates each season. In 2018, there were 45 people who were confirmed positive in the state, and in 2019 seven people in Maryland were known to have contracted the virus.

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While most people do not develop symptoms from this virus, some people who develop illness may experience mild symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches; occasionally a skin rash and swollen lymph glands may be noticed. These symptoms may last a few days or as long as several weeks. Those who are older than 50 or have immunocompromised conditions can become seriously ill.

People who are concerned about mosquitoes should cover up exposed skin and use an EPA-registered insect repellent according to package directions. Residents are also urged to monitor their own yards and gardens for areas of high mosquito activity, especially standing water that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Small amounts of water in a discarded can or container will support dozens of mosquitoes, as well as clogged rain gutters or drain pipes.

Although birds are not routinely tested for West Nile virus in Maryland, sick or injured birds can be reported to an appropriate local wildlife rehabilitator. Residents can call 1-877-463-6497 for a list of licensed rehabilitators or visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website at DNR Wildlife Pages.

For additional information on West Nile virus, visit PHPA West Nile virus.

Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

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