Woman in her 30s tests positive for West Nile Virus in Massachusetts

Health

BOSTON (WWLP) – A woman in her 30s has been identified as the seventh West Nile Virus infection in the state this year. This is the first case of a person under the age of 50.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health says the woman was exposed to West Nile Virus in Bristol County. So far this year, there has been six human cases and one animal case of West Nile Virus in 2021.

A total of 49 communities near Boston are considered high-risk for the virus. Six western Massachusetts communities are at moderate risk for WNV: Chicopee, Springfield, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Agawam, and West Springfield.

“This is our first West Nile virus case this year in someone under the age of 50,” said Acting Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “This is a reminder that although people over the age of 50 are at greater risk from West Nile virus, all ages can be affected. Risk from West Nile virus will continue until the first hard frost and people should remember to take steps to prevent mosquito bites anytime they are outdoors.”

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. 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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