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BALTIMORE, Md-An elderly man has tested positive for the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. He is the first person to be diagnosed with the virus in Maryland.
The 72-year-old was found unconscious in his home two weeks ago. Today, he is in a coma at Sinai Hospital.
There have been several people diagnosed with the virus in the past month along the Atlantic coast. A 71-year-old Georgia woman died of the virus last month, and there have been four confirmed cases in Florida this summer.
Birds have tested positive for West Nile in several states including Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan.
While most people can fight the virus without medical attention, it can be fatal for those who have compromised immune systems. Children and the elderly are specifically at risk.
West Nile virus has emerged in North America and Europe in the past few years; however, it has been a serious health concern in the Mideast since the 1950s. Originally isolated in a febrile adult woman in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, the virus causes severe human meningoencephalitis.
An equine strain of the disease was first noted in Egypt and France in the 1960s. Researchers believe it was brought to the US by zoo animals.
West Nile virus is contracted by an infected mosquito bite. The mosquito becomes infected from feeding off of an infected bird. There is no human-to-human or bird-to-human transmission reported. Although the spread of the disease has been rapid along the eastern coast, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) think the virus will spread slowly.
Seventeen human cases of West Nile were reported in 2000, all in New York City and New Jersey. The virus can cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation. Experts now know the culprit behind the virus-the Culex mosquito. They knew the disease was mosquito-borne, but they have now determined the specific mosquito that carries the virus. With this information, they are further informing the public to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
People are being urged to limit breeding grounds for the bugs by eliminating any standing water in gutters, old tires, wadding pools, outside containers, and pails. Health officials are also suggesting people wear long sleeves and pants outside, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most prevalent. Wearing a bug repellent containing the chemical DEET.
The four major symptoms of the disease are fever, an altered mental state, spinal fluid with elevated levels or protein, and muscle weakness.
Information from www.washingtonpost.com, previous ICT research and reports