A Cumberland County man has been confirmed as Maine’s first case of West Nile virus in a human, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.
The 34-year-old man who contracted the potentially deadly disease, which is carried by mosquitoes, has recovered. His symptoms began on Oct. 1 and included fever, weakness and double vision, as well as swelling of the brain and meningitis.
He was hospitalized and has been released, according to Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC. Tests last week confirmed the disease, she said.
In August, a Pennsylvania resident vacationing in Maine tested positive for West Nile but health officials said the infection was likely contracted out of state. The Cumberland County patient had not recently traveled and is believed to be the first in Maine’s history to acquire the disease in state.
With Wednesday’s case, Maine became the last of the lower 48 states this year to report West Nile infection among residents, according to U.S. CDC data. The virus made a comeback in 2012, and has infected nearly 5,000 people, the most reported to the CDC through the last week of October since 2003.
More than 230 people have died.
Texas accounts for about a third of this year’s cases.
“We were one of the few states that had not had it yet, so it was sort of expected, although disappointing,” Pinette said.
Only Hawaii and Alaska have been spared from West Nile.
The virus first was detected in the United States in 1999. Health officials aren’t sure what’s causing the rise in West Nile this year, but suspect the weather may be playing a role.
Temperatures are still warm enough for mosquitoes to survive and spread the disease, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from biting infected birds and then transmit it to people.
“As long as the temperatures remain above freezing there is potential for West Nile virus transmission,” Sears said in a news release.
Mosquitoes remain active until the first hard frost of the season. Some parts of Maine have seen a hard frost, but other regions have yet to reach freezing temperatures.
Most people infected with West Nile don’t show any symptoms. About one in five gets sick with a fever, body aches, vomiting and joint pain that can last from a few days to several weeks. Symptoms typically appear between three and 14 days after a bite from an infected mosquito.
In the rare severe cases, which are more common in people 50 and older, the virus causes neurological problems such as brain swelling that can lead to confusion, coma, seizures and permanent damage.
To survive the serious neurological complications, patients typically must have a healthy immune system, Pinette said.
There is no human vaccine or cure for West Nile. Patients with the virus can be treated for their symptoms, by administering oxygen and intravenous nutrition and fluids.
Horses can be vaccinated against both West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis, another mosquito-borne illness.
West Nile is not spread by close contact with someone infected with the virus.
Maine CDC plans to continue monitoring mosquitoes for the virus and expects West Nile to crop up again in the spring as it is carried by migrating birds.
To lower your risk of getting infected with West Nile and other diseases carried by mosquitoes, Maine CDC recommends:
• Using insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient when outdoors.
• Trying to stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.
• Wearing long sleeves and pants if you plan to be outside.
• Installing door and window screens and repairing any holes to keep mosquitoes out.
• Emptying standing water where mosquitoes can breed, such as from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths every week. Drill holes in tire swings to allow water to drain. Empty kiddie pools when they are not in use and store them on their side.
• Don’t handle a dead bird with your bare hands. Contact your local health department for instructions on reporting and disposing of it.