Massachusetts’ health agency has reported the first cases of the West Nile virus this year, a dangerous illness carried by mosquitoes. They’re urging people to be cautious.
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On August 29, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that a man in his 40s got the West Nile virus in Middlesex County, a place already considered somewhat risky.
Another person, a woman in her 70s, got the virus somewhere else in the country. The agency said the risk level remains the same for now.
The DPH of the state said the chance of people getting infected is moderate in the Greater Boston area, which includes Middlesex County, Norfolk County, and Suffolk County. It’s also moderate in parts of Berkshire County, Bristol County, Hampden County, Hampshire County, Plymouth County, and Worcester County.
Dr. Robert Goldstein, the DPH commissioner, said, “This is the first time that West Nile virus infection has been identified in Massachusetts residents this year.” He added that people in Massachusetts are most at risk during August and September.
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“Populations of mosquitoes that can carry and spread this virus are fairly large this year and we have seen recent increases in the number of WNV-positive mosquito samples from multiple parts of the Commonwealth,” he said.
In 2022, Massachusetts found eight human cases of the West Nile virus, which spreads to people when infected mosquitoes bite them. The first case in 2022 was a elderly woman in Suffolk County, the agency said in a statement back then.
Stay Safe From Mosquito Bites
Though the West Nile virus can affect people of various ages, individuals over 50 face a higher risk of severe illness. While most people infected with the virus won’t show symptoms, rare cases can lead to serious health issues.
Generally, individuals with mild West Nile virus symptoms tend to recover independently. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, about 20% of cases exhibit symptoms between 2 and 14 days after a mosquito bite, such as fever, headache, body aches, rash, diarrhea, and vomiting. More severe symptoms encompass intense headaches, confusion, muscle weakness, or paralysis.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has provided locals with suggestions for safeguarding themselves against mosquito bites. These include applying repellent when outside, wearing long sleeves and pants, and draining stagnant water from pools and puddles where mosquitoes breed.
It’s also recommended to fix screens on doors and windows, clear gutters of debris, cover trash bins, and refresh the water in pet dishes.
“We are coming to the unofficial end of summer, but mosquitoes with West Nile virus will persist for several more months,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown said on Aug. 29. “We also encourage everyone to regularly visit DPH’s mosquito-borne diseases web pages to stay informed on when and where WNV activity is occurring,” she added.
No vaccines or medicines are available to manage the West Nile virus, which belongs to the flavivirus group. Approximately 1 out of 5 people who contract the virus experience fever and other symptoms, and roughly 1 out of 150 individuals face a severe and potentially fatal illness.
“The death rate among those showing symptoms of severe West Nile infection (encephalitis or meningitis) is around 10%. Most severe cases occur in elderly people,” according to the CDC’s website.
A study published in the journal Current Biology investigates how mosquitoes use your body chemistry to select you as their next meal.
The West Nile virus is seldom transmitted between people, as mosquitoes are usually the main carriers. The virus primarily resides in birds, as indicated by authorities.
Health experts from the University of California, San Francisco, have explained that mosquitoes become carriers of the virus when they feed on infected birds. Certain birds, like crows, jays, ravens, and magpies, are particularly vulnerable to the West Nile virus.
Based on data from the CDC, as of August 29, this year has seen 455 reported cases of the West Nile virus across 36 states in the United States, including states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois, South Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. In 2022, there were 1,126 cases of the virus reported, a decrease from 2,911 cases in 2021, according to CDC records.
In 1999, a strain of the West Nile virus that was present in Tunisia and Israel was brought to New York State, leading to a significant outbreak that spread throughout the entire United States during the 2000s, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The largest outbreaks occurred in Greece, Israel, Romania, Russia, and the USA,” the WHO said. “Outbreak sites are on major bird migration routes. In its original range, WNV was prevalent throughout Africa, parts of Europe, the Middle East, West Asia, and Australia. Since its introduction in 1999 into the USA, the virus has spread and is now widely established from Canada to Venezuela.”