Thursday, August 21, 2008

Queens Woman Infected with West Nile Virus


by Conor Greene

Two New York residents, including a Queens woman, have tested positive for West Nile virus, marking the first two human cases reported this year, announced city health officials.

A 73-year-old Queens woman was hospitalized last Friday after she was infected by the virus while in the city, according to the city Department of Health. A 60-year-old Bronx man was released from a hospital last week after also becoming infected.

Both individuals became ill in July and were hospitalized in August, according to the DOH. The Queens woman developed encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and is now recovering in a local hospital, according to the department. The Bronx man developed an inflammation of the brain and spinal tissue (meningitis) as a result of the virus, but has since fully recovered.

DOH officials said the man had recently traveled outside the city, making it difficult to determine where he was infected, but it is believed that the woman was infected while in the city. Citing privacy issues, a DOH spokeswoman this week refused to say where in Queens the woman lives or is believed to have contracted the virus.

“A case of West Nile virus provides an urgent reminder to protect ourselves,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “Wearing mosquito repellent whenever you are outdoors, and long sleeves and pants in the morning and evening will reduce your risk of contracting the virus. Older New Yorkers need to be especially careful; they are more likely to become seriously ill and die if they are infected.”

Last year, 18 city residents contracted the virus and three died. The DOH warns that each year, the first infections usually don’t occur until August, meaning residents should continue to protect themselves against the threat of infection over the coming weeks.

According to the DOH, a greater number of mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus this year compared with 2007. The majority of positive tests were in Queens, where 62 mosquito pools have tested positive for the virus so far this year, compared with 53 all of last year.

In many cases, a West Nile virus infection causes mild or moderate flu-like symptoms, according to the DOH. However, in some cases, particularly in people 50 and older, it can cause serious infection in the brain and spinal cord that can be fatal. The most common symptoms are headache, fever and extreme fatigue.

Residents are reminded to eliminate any standing water from their property and make sure that roof gutters are clean and draining properly. Allowing standing water to accumulate is a violation of the city’s health code.

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