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New Jersey West Nile Virus Cases Reach Record Highs

West Nile Virus cases in New Jersey are reaching record highs with a total of 31 human cases reported statewide so far this year — two of which were deaths associated with the virus among Bergen County residents.

“The number of human West Nile Virus cases is the highest we’ve seen since 2012, and the season is not over yet,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “The pattern of hot and wet weather this summer has led to an increase in mosquito populations and associated viruses.”

The two deaths so far this year were among a 62-year-old man and an elderly woman in Bergen County. Both passed away this month.

“Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco has been working closely with us, and is very focused on minimizing the impact to Bergen County residents,” Dr. Elnahal said. “Bergen County officials have been proactive in spraying the highest risk areas for mosquitoes to protect the public. We are also working with local health departments across the state, who monitor cases and initiate responses as appropriate.”

 

In 2017, there were eight human cases of West Nile reported. Commissioner Elnahal noted the number of positive West Nile virus mosquito pools is the highest ever reported, particularly in the northwestern and central parts of the state where levels usually are not high. There has also been an increase in dead and ill bird reports. 

“Residents should protect themselves by using repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants and avoiding the outdoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active," Commissioner Elnahal said. “West Nile Virus most often causes mild symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches or a rash for healthy individuals, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.”


Over the past five years, deaths associated with West Nile virus have included:

  • 2013: 2 (Gloucester and Morris counties)
  • 2014: 0
  • 2015: 3 (Cumberland, Monmouth and Passaic counties)
  • 2016: 2 (Ocean and Union counties)
  • 2017: 2 (Mercer and Middlesex counties)

 

The virus is spread by the bite of a mosquito infected with the West Nile virus. It is not spread from person to person. Many people infected do not become ill and may not develop symptoms. About 20 percent of infected people will develop West Nile fever. When symptoms occur, they may be mild or severe. Mild symptoms include flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

Severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness and swelling of the brain (encephalitis) which can lead to coma, convulsions and death. Less than 1 percent of infected people will develop severe symptoms. People over the age of 50 and people with weak immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe illness.

“The number of West Nile virus cases in New Jersey is of great concern,” Assistant Commissioner for Natural and Historic Resources Ray Bukowski said. “The warm and wet weather we have experienced increases the mosquito population. Even as the weather cools, it is very important for the public to eliminate even the smallest amounts of standing water from their properties, to reduce the risk of exposure to mosquito bites and mosquito-borne illnesses. Safeguarding public health is critical.”

Residents, business owners and contractors can take steps to reduce mosquito populations on their properties by emptying or changing outdoor standing water at least weekly to stop mosquito breeding. Areas that may need attention include flower pots, birdbaths, clogged rain gutters, plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows, and any containers or trash that may be difficult to see such as under bushes, homes or around building exteriors. Contact with mosquitoes can also be reduced by using air-conditioning when possible and ensuring window screens are in good repair. Detailed guidance for mosquito-proofing your yard is available here.

New Jersey's WNV surveillance, control and prevention activities involve the coordinated efforts of several federal, state and local agencies. These include the Department of Health, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Mosquito Control Commission, the Rutgers Center for Vector Biology, local health departments and mosquito control agencies.

For more information, visit the Department of Health’s West Nile webpage and the Department of Environmental Protection’s mosquito webpage.


Follow New Jersey Health Commissioner Elnahal on Twitter.


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