9th human case of West Nile Virus in Massachusetts reported by health officials


BOSTON (WWLP) – The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced Friday the ninth human case of West Nile Virus (WNV) in the state this year.

A man in his 60s was exposed to the virus in Middlesex County, according to the Massachusetts DPH. So far this year, there has been nine human cases and one animal case of the virus.

“While the risk from WNV is declining at this time of year, some risk will continue until there has been a hard frost,” said Acting Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “People should continue to take steps to prevent mosquito bites anytime they are outdoors.”

The risk levels for West Nile Virus were not changed due to the recent case. A total of 27 cities and towns in Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk counties are currently at high risk for the virus and 71 other communities, including Agawam, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, West Springfield, Springfield and Chicopee, are ranked moderate risk.

Tips to protect yourself from West Nile Virus

  • Apply insect repellent when outdoors
  • Reduce your time outside during peak mosquito hours, from dusk to dawn
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks outdoors
  • Drain any standing water in your yard where mosquitos are likely to breed
  • Make sure screens are secure and repair any holes

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito-carried virus that can cause illness ranging from a mild fever to more serious disease like encephalitis or meningitis. It was first identified in the United States in 1999.

How is WNV spread?

WNV is most commonly spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. More information about different types of mosquitoes that can spread WNV can be found on the MDPH website at www.mass.gov/dph/mosquito.

WNV may also be spread through blood transfusion or organ transplant. In addition, there are rare reports of WNV being passed from pregnant or breastfeeding women, who are infected with WNV, to their babies. Since these reports are rare, the health effects on an unborn or breastfeeding baby are unclear and still being studied.

People do not become infected by having direct contact with other infected people, birds or animals. 

What are the symptoms of WNV?

The majority of people who are infected with WNV (approximately 80%) will have no symptoms.

A smaller number of people who become infected (~ 20%) will have symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands. They may also develop a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

Less than 1% of people infected with WNV will develop severe illness, including encephalitis or meningitis. The symptoms of severe illness can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Persons older than 50 years of age have a higher risk of developing severe illness.

How common is WNV in Massachusetts?

Because most people who are exposed to WNV have no symptoms, it is difficult to know exactly how many people have been infected. People who develop severe illness with WNV are most often reported. 

There was 11 human cases of WNV in Massachusetts in 2020. Between 2011 and 2020, 148 people were reported with WNV infection in Massachusetts. Seven of these people died. Cases have been identified from around the state.

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