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First West Nile virus cases reported in Ohio for 2016

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Mosquito season is running rampant in Ohio, and the Zika virus is not the only bug with a bite.

Ohio’s first two cases of West Nile virus have been reported for 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). The two individuals infected are a 68-year-old woman and a 4-year-old boy, both from the same area in Marion County.

The primary source of the West Nile virus is the Northern House Mosquito, which is native to Ohio. Mosquitoes become infected with the virus after feeding on infected birds.

Most humans do not exhibit symptoms, but about one in five will experience fevers, headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rashes. Less than 1 percent of those infected could develop a serious neurological illness. Currently, there are no medications or vaccines to treat or prevent the virus.

Despite this, the ODH is still taking preemptive measures to help combat the virus. The department uses a mosquito surveillance system that facilitates mosquito tracking.

“One of the things that mosquito surveillance allows us to do is have an idea of what’s going on with mosquitoes throughout the summer,” said Dr. Richard Gary, the ODH’s state public health entomologist. “As soon as we see an upward trend, such as the increase in infection in human cases, we alert local health departments as quickly as possible so that they can implement their control measures and public messaging locally.”

The ODH regularly releases statements on cases of infection from any type of mosquito-borne illness in Ohio. Thirty-five cases total were reported in Ohio last year. The two cases reported in 2016 are lower than the amount reported at this time last year, which Gary estimates as seven.

The decrease is not a reason to believe that the total for 2016 will be dramatically lower than in years past.

“It’s too early to say,” Gary said. “We are entering the time of the year where we see the most cases reported. It’s important to note that there is a lag in reporting the time between when a person is bitten by the mosquito and when it is reported. It may be four to five days before they develop symptoms, and then they go to the doctor and testing is done, and then there’s a period of time before the test results come to us.”

The ODH has a Zoonotic Disease Program that deals with animal-transmitted infectious diseases that are passed to humans. Both the West Nile and the Zika virus fall under this division, though they are transmitted by different kinds of mosquitoes and contracted in different areas. The Zika virus is found in tropical areas and Southern Florida, whereas West Nile can be contracted in Ohio and across the United States.

Messages about prevention and protection is similar for both of the viruses, despite scientific differences between the two.

“These cases serve to remind Ohioans that they should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites in order to prevent mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus and Zika virus,” said ODH Medical Director Mary DiOrio.

To avoid contraction of either West Nile or Zika, the ODH encourages wearing long pants and shirts while outside, wearing light-colored clothing, using mosquito repellent and installing screens on windows and doors inside your home.

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