LARGO — The Health Department confirmed the first locally acquired human case of West Nile virus of 2018 in Prince George’s County on Aug. 1.
West Nile virus has, in the past, been reported all over the U.S. and occurs during mosquito season in the summer through early fall, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of right now, there are no vaccinations or medication to prevent or treat West Nile virus in people.
The person who contracted the virus in the county started to show symptoms last month, and their lab results confirmed that the West Nile virus caused them. Despite this, the CDC says that most people, about 1 in 5, who contract the disease do not show symptoms and 1 out of 150 people develop severe and fatal illnesses.
However, the county Health Department is still urging residents to be careful and vigilant in taking precautions against the disease as it is still possible to contract symptoms such as body aches, fever, headache, nausea, rash, swollen lymph glands and vomiting. More serious symptoms include high fever, coma and convulsions which can take weeks or months to recover from after being infected.
The virus is most commonly spread through mosquitoes who get it from infected birds. People cannot get it through touching others, coughing or sneezing, or touching live animals.
“People produce chemicals that attract mosquitoes,” said Kate Fowlie, press officer for the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “Carbon dioxide is the primary chemical that attracts them. A combination of heat, moisture and carbon dioxide makes an excellent target for blood-seeking female mosquitoes (the ones that bite).”
The Health Department advises people to avoid areas or activities that attract mosquitoes such as standing water and wearing dark clothing. Drain any water containers near the home often, wear long sleeves and pants and light-colored clothing and wear EPA-registered mosquito repellant such as DEET, picaridin, IR 3535 or oil of lemon-eucalyptus.
Although West Nile is the most common disease spread by mosquitoes in the U.S., they can also carry other viruses.
“West Nile virus is the most common virus spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States,” said Fowlie. “In the United States, people can also get sick from less common viruses spread by mosquitoes, like La Crosse encephalitis or St. Louis encephalitis. From 2004 to 2016, most U.S. cases of dengue, chikungunya,and Zika were reported in U.S. territories.”
In 2017, there were six reported cases of the West Nile virus in Maryland. However, none were reported in Prince George’s County. According to the CDC, the number of mosquito-related illnesses in the U.S. has more than tripled between 2004 and 2016 and mosquito-borne disease epidemics have become more frequent. To combat the issue, the county Health Department frequently works with the state to track infected mosquitos.