Burlco man succumbs to West Nile virus

Posted: September 09, 2012

A 77-year-old Burlington County man is the first New Jersey resident to die this year from the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, authorities said Friday.

The death was reported as state and local agencies ramped up efforts to combat the virus, and New Jersey health officials announced that the number of confirmed virus cases had jumped from eight last week to 15.

In Pennsylvania, 16 residents have tested positive for the virus; one, an elderly Luzerne County man, died, officials said.

In the most recent death in New Jersey, the victim developed fever, weakness, and respiratory distress on Aug. 20 and was hospitalized Aug. 26. He died this week. His name and hometown were not released by state health officials.

"Unfortunately, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of developing serious health complications as a result of being bitten by a mosquito infected" by West Nile virus, said Tina Tan, New Jersey state epidemiologist. "We are urging all residents, and especially those most at risk, to protect themselves against mosquito bites."

Nearly 2,000 West Nile virus human cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year; about 1,600 had been logged last week. Altogether, 87 people have died, officials said.

The virus has been tracked in people, birds, or mosquitoes in 48 states. But more than 70 percent of the cases are concentrated in just six: Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan. Nearly 45 percent of the cases have been recorded in Texas.

In New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states, authorities have been testing dead birds and insects, spraying pesticides, and conducting aerial and ground surveillance of breeding areas.

"This is the peak of West Nile virus season and, like the rest of the nation, high mosquito activity is contributing to spread of the virus," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd.

"Residents should protect themselves by using repellent, wearing long sleeves, long pants, and removing standing water on their property that breeds mosquitoes," she said.

New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection heads up statewide mosquito control efforts by providing funding, equipment, and expertise to the counties.

Because of heightened concerns, the state is making additional funding available for mosquito testing, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said Friday.

This "will help the state and counties even more precisely target mosquito control efforts," Martin said. "But it is equally important for people to take steps at home to protect themselves and their families."

Officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have urged the public to report mosquito activity and dead birds to authorities.

On Friday, four dead birds in Pennsylvania - one in Lancaster County, two in Centre County, and one in Berks County - were reported to have tested positive for the virus.

So far, in Pennsylvania, one human case has been reported in Philadelphia, along with one each in Bucks, Chester, York, Centre, Franklin, Luzerne, and Lebanon Counties. Three additional cases were reported in Delaware County, three in Lancaster County, and two in Lehigh County. A total of seven were logged last year.

In New Jersey, 15 cases have been reported: two in Essex County: three in Ocean County; and one each in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Passaic, Bergen, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth. Seven cases were reported last year, with no fatalities.

Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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