The number of human cases of West Nile virus reported in New Jersey so far this year (31) marks a worrying trend and is the highest since 2012. Last year, eight cases were reported.
Two Bergen County residents, a 62-year-old man and an elderly woman, have died after being infected this year. Between 2013 and 2017 nine deaths were associated with the virus: two in Gloucester and Morris counties (2013), three in Cumberland, Monmouth and Passaic counties (2015), two in Ocean and Union counties (2016), and two in Mercer and Middlesex counties (2017).
The virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Even when infected, many people do not become ill or develop symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be mild: flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a 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 develop severe symptoms.
“The pattern of hot and wet weather this summer has led to an increase in mosquito populations and associated viruses,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal. He noted that the number of mosquito pools which have tested positive for the virus 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 reports of dead and ill birds.
“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.”