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First 2013 PA Cases of West Nile in Humans Detected

Summer may be coming to a close, but the threat of West Nile Virus continues.

The Department of Health has detected Pennsylvania’s first confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus this year.

A Montgomery County man tested positive for West Nile Aug. 7 and was hospitalized, and the infection was confirmed in a York County man July 20, who did not require hospitalization.

Health department spokeswoman Kait Gillis said both men are recovering.

Sixty human cases of West Nile Virus were recorded in 2012.

According to the Department of Health, West Nile is prevalent in the mid-summer and early fall.

The outbreaks have been localized instead of statewide this year with West Nile detected by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 36 counties.

“This year, the mosquitoes came out much later, and we’ve had a much less warm summer, in addition to the fact that we haven’t had some of the significant rains that we saw in the early spring last year, so really a lot of it comes down to the weather,” said DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman.

Witman said the flooding this summer has increased the mosquito population but has not increased the amount of West Nile Virus.

The virus was first found in Pennsylvania in 2000, and Witman said the number of infections has been sporadic from year to year.

“The department does have a very active surveillance and control program which sets traps for mosquitoes all across the state to collect and test them to see if they have West Nile Virus,” Witman said. “And then when those West Nile Virus positive mosquitoes are detected, the department also conducts control activities.”

The DEP controls the adult mosquito population with mounted sprays on ATVs and trucks.

According to the DEP, mosquitoes with West Nile Virus breed in areas with stagnant and standing water such as urban catch basins, poorly maintained swimming pools and flowerpots.

“Mosquitoes like to go where the people go, and that’s not necessarily because they like to feed on us, in fact they prefer to feed on birds, however, where there are people, there tends to be a lot of standing water because of our storm water retention basins, because we like to leave those recycle bins and flower pots and bird baths out and things like that,” Witman said.

Witman said the hotspots are usually in large urban centers — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg. She said Scranton and Erie are popular locations for West Nile, too.

Symptoms of mild cases of West Nile Virus include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. They last only a few days.

People who have a severe case of West Nile Virus, called West Nile meningitis or encephalitis, could experience headaches, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

Severe cases could last weeks and neurological effects might be permanent.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.
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