Harford residents urged to protect themselves from West Nile

In light of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's reports Friday of the first three confirmed cases of symptomatic West Nile virus this year, Harford County Health Department is recommending people take measures to prevent infection and reduce risk.

West Nile virus is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. People can reduce their risk of being infected with West Nile by using insect repellent and wearing protective clothing to prevent mosquito bites. There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile infection. Fortunately, most people infected with West Nile will have no symptoms. About one in five people who are infected, however, will develop a fever with other symptoms that may last a few days or as long as several weeks.

Fewer than 1 percent of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurological illness with symptoms such as high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and effects on the nervous system may be permanent.

Although most people are at low risk for the disease, people 50 and older have the highest risk of developing severe illness if infected. Also, people who spend a lot of time outdoors have a greater risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito.

"Prevention is key and there are actions individuals can take to reduce the risk of West Nile virus infection," Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly said in a press release. "In addition to personal protection, prevention requires attention to your surroundings."

She encourages the public to "help reduce the number of mosquitoes in outdoor areas where they work or play by draining any sources of standing water, even small ones, where mosquitoes can lay their eggs and breed."

Specifically, she recommends:

• At least once or twice a week, emptying water from flower pots, pet food and water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, buckets, barrels, cans or any other place where standing water is found;

• Checking for clogged rain gutters and cleaning them out if necessary;

• Looking for containers or trash in places that may be hard to see, such as under bushes or under buildings;

• Fixing dripping spigots;

• Aerating ornamental pools and water gardens or stocking with fish and using a circulating filter system; and

• Installing or repairing window and door screens so mosquitoes cannot get indoors.

"Just as importantly," Kelly said, "there are measures people can take to effectively protect themselves from mosquito bites. These include avoiding areas of high mosquito activity as well as avoiding unnecessary outdoor activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats when concerned about mosquito exposure and use an EPA-registered insect repellent according to package directions. Also be sure to place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors with infants."

In Maryland, West Nile Virus first appeared in 1999 in a crow in Baltimore City. The first human West Nile cases were reported in 2001 and since then, infections have been found in p, birds, mosquitoes, horses and/or other mammals throughout all jurisdictions, reaching a peak of 73 human cases and more than 230 infected horses in 2003. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene collaborates with the Maryland Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources and with the U.S. Department of Defense to monitor West Nile and other arthropod or insect-borne viruses in humans, mosquitoes and wildlife throughout the state.

For more information on the West Nile virus, visit Harford County Health Department website at http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com contact the Health Department at 410-612-1781, visit the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene at or the National Centers for Disease Control website at .

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