Health Secretary Says Tests Show First Human Case of West Nile Virus This Year in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Health Secretary Dr. Calvin Johnson today reported the first human case of West Nile virus in Pennsylvania this year. The individual, a 46-year-old Philadelphia woman, has fully recovered from the illness.

"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," Johnson said. "The case is not unexpected, since we've known for several months -- through bird, mosquito and animal testing -- that West Nile virus is present in Pennsylvania."

Johnson urged Pennsylvanians to keep proper perspective on the health risks of West Nile.

"The chance of contracting West Nile virus from an infected mosquito is small," Secretary Johnson said. "Even if you're bitten by an infected mosquito, your chances of becoming seriously ill are even smaller. However, 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."

Johnson 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 your 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); and

-- 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.

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 strongly urge all Pennsylvanians to take just a few minutes to walk around their homes and get rid of stagnant water that may have collected on their properties," Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty said. She suggests some simple steps that can be taken around the house:

-- Eliminate standing water in any type 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; and

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

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. Johnson 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.

"West Nile Virus also poses a significant threat to unvaccinated horses," said Agriculture Secretary Dennis C Wolff. "It is important for all citizens -- particularly horse owners and farmers -- to be aware of the risk factors and take measures to protect both themselves and their animals from the virus."

So far this year in Pennsylvania, West Nile virus has been found in seven birds, 30 mosquito samples and one veterinary sample. The virus has been detected in 23 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Pennsylvanians should presume that West Nile virus is present throughout the state and should take appropriate precautions.

Since January 1, there have been 16 identified human cases of West Nile virus in nine states across the country.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health