On Thursday, July 23, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed the first probable human case of West Nile Virus in 2020.

A Potter County resident was tested and samples sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

According to Rutul Dalal, MD, medical director of infectious diseases for Susquehanna UPMC, West Nile Virus typically is seen between June and September, with the majority of cases in August and September. This year may be early because of the numerous 90-degree days of late.

“I think because of that, we’re seeing it earlier than before,” said Dr. Dalal.

Nationwide, there were 958 presumptive positive cases of West Nile Virus in 2019. Pennsylvania had seven cases. Most of those positive cases probably showed symptoms within 3-14 days of infection: fever, headache, muscle ache, rash, gastro-intestinal symptoms and lymph node enlargements. In some cases, the virus attacks the neurological system, which can result in death.

With the virus, only 20% exhibit symptoms, said Dr. Dalal; 80% are asymptomatic.

There is no vaccine or cure for West Nile Virus. Most people recover with supportive measures, but it can be fatal, particularly for those whose systems are immunosuppressed.

West Nile Virus is typically transmitted by mosquitos and birds, mainly crows and jays, which sicken and die once infected. It can also be transmitted from organ transplants and from mother to child.

Finding dead birds, especially crows and birds, can be a sign that the virus is present. It can also affect dogs, cats, horses, bats, chipmunks and other rodents that can transmit the disease.

“If you see a lot of people being bitten by mosquitoes and getting symptoms, then one should get tested,” Dr. Dalal said.

Better yet, he said, is to avoid getting infected and the key to that is to eliminate mosquito-breeding habitat and take preventive measures, such as using repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothing and long pants.

According to the Department of Health, mosquitoes breed in areas with standing and stagnant water, such as catch basins, clogged gutters, discarded tires, poorly maintained swimming pools, flower pots and other types of plastic containers.

To eliminate standing water around the home you can:

  • Remove tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, discarded tires or any object that could collect standing water. Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers left outdoors.
  • Have roof gutters cleaned every year, particularly if the leaves from nearby trees have a tendency to clog the drains.
  • Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
  • Do not let water stagnate in birdbaths.
  • Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish.
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools and remove standing water from pool covers.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property.
  • Treat standing water that cannot be eliminated with Bti products, which are sold at outdoor supply, home improvement and other stores. Bti is a natural product that kills mosquito larvae, but is safe for people, pets, aquatic life and plants.