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health Worst season ever for West Nile in Conn.

November 6, 2018

The state had its worst season ever for West Nile virus in 2018 — which included a record 22 human cases of the mosquito-borne illness, and one death, of a West Haven resident.

“There was a lot of virus out there,” said Philip Armstrong, medical entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, which runs the state’s Mosquito Management Program. “It was a really busy season.”

He said the death was the first West Nile-linked fatality in the state since 2006. Armstrong could release few details about the victim other than that the person was a West Haven resident between 80 and 90 years old. Armstrong didn’t have the exact date of death, but said the person was hospitalized Sept. 17.

West Nile virus is primarily spread to humans and animals through mosquito bites. The illness has been detected in the state every year since 1999.

Before 2018, 134 human cases of West Nile were diagnosed in Connecticut residents, including three fatalities. Last year, only three Connecticut residents were diagnosed with WNV infection.

Most people who contract West Nile don’t develop symptoms, or develop a relatively mild, flu-like illness. However, roughly 1 in 150 people infected with the disease develop a serious or, possibly fatal, illness.

Of the 22 people sickened with West Nile in Connecticut, Armstrong said, 17 contracted a neuroinvasive disease, such as encephalitis or meningitis.

At Bridgeport Hospital, chief of infectious disease Dr. Zane Saul said there were three or four people admitted to the hospital with West Nile this year.

“Of those, two people were pretty seriously ill, with involvement of the brain or nervous system,” Saul said. “This was the most I had seen in years.”

The state began trapping mosquitoes in June and stopped in mid-October. In that time, 393 mosquitoes tested positive for West Nile virus — the highest number for a single season to date.

Previously, 2012 held the record for the highest number of West Nile-positive mosquitoes captured in the state, at 235, and the highest number of human cases, at 21.

This was a bad year nationwide as well, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, as of Oct. 30, 49 states and the District of Columbia reported West Nile infections in people, birds or mosquitoes.

Overall, 2,204 cases of West Nile virus disease in people have been reported to the CDC. Of these, 1,342 were classified as neuroinvasive disease and 862 were classified as non-neuroinvasive disease. Last year, 2,097 cases of West Nile in humans were reported to the CDC.

Armstrong said weather is likely the cause of the high-case season. “This was a warmer than normal summer, and very wet as well,” he said. Both of those factors can exacerbate the spread of West Nile, he said.

If summers continue to be as warm as this one, Armstrong said, West Nile activity will likely continue to be high.

“Those conditions are leading to more mosquitoes and more virus transmission,” he said.

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