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September 04, 2020

Health officials confirm first West Nile case in Philadelphia

Illness West Nile Virus
Philadelphia cases West Nile Jimmy Chan/Pexels

Philadelphia reported its first case of West Nile on Friday. West Nile activity has been detected in mosquito populations throughout 16 counties in the state, including all counties in southeastern Pennsylvania.

A Philadelphia resident is the first person to contract the West Nile virus in Pennsylvania this year, health officials said Friday.

The Philadelphia Department of Health did not release any details about the person, including his or her age, current condition or the section of the city where the person lives.

West Nile activity has been detected in mosquito populations in 16 counties in the state, including all the counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The number of annual West Nile cases among Philly residents has ranged from zero to 24 since 2001, according to health officials. In 2018, the city experienced a surge of infections with 17 cases reported. Only three people contracted the virus last year. 

Most people who are infected do not develop any symptoms, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. About 20% will develop flu-like symptoms, including fever. Only 1 in 150 people develop symptoms severe enough to cause encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain or spine, which can lead to death. People ages 50 and older have the highest risk of developing severe symptoms.

The city's vector control services program has treated more than 50,000 storm drain inlets with larvicide to prevent mosquitoes from breeding this summer, the Philadelphia Department of Health said. But the city can only prevent the mosquito-borne disease so much.

Residents should dump water from pet dishes, birdbaths, flower pots and other vessels that collect water at least once a week, health officials said. Kiddie pools should be stored on their sides, rain gutters should be unclogged, and ornamental ponds should be aerated. 

To prevent mosquito bites, residents should wear insect repellent on exposed skin or long-sleeved shirts and pants, if the weather permits. Health officials also advised remaining indoors at dawn, dusk, and the early evening when mosquitoes are most active.

Across the United States, 13 other states have reported West Nile cases in humans through Sept. 4, totaling 64 cases, according to the CDC. Non-human cases of West Nile have been reported in an additional 25 states, including New Jersey.

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