Health

First human cases of West Nile virus confirmed in Mass.


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First human cases of West Nile virus confirmed in Mass.
Globe Correspondent
Three women have contracted the mosquito-borne virus, an announcement that comes just days after authorities increased the statewide risk level for the West Nile from low to moderate.
By Cynthia Fernandez
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In this Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010 photo, a Cattail mosquito is held up for inspection at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough, Maine. Cattail mosquitos can transmit Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus to humans. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach) / OUTTAKe 0910



Massachusetts health officials said Friday that they had confirmed three cases of West Nile virus in humans, this year’s first diagnoses in the state of the mosquito-borne virus.

They include a Worcester County woman in her 70s, a woman in her 60s from Middlesex County, and another woman from Suffolk County.

In addition, the state Department of Public Health said a horse stabled in Hampshire County also was infected and had to be euthanized.


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The state did not identify the infected patients. But a Worcester man told the Globe that the occurrence in that county was his 71-year-old wife, and said she developed flu-like symptoms two weeks ago.

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“[The doctor] said it’s probably some kind of flu virus, just try to keep drinking and it will probably resolve itself,” Victor Saffrin said.

But her symptoms worsened. After blood work revealed she had “critically low” sodium levels, Saffrin rushed his wife to the emergency room, where a battery of tests began, her husband said. On Wednesday, a week after the patient was first admitted to the hospital, a lumbar puncture test confirmed that the woman had contracted the West Nile virus, he said.

Saffrin said Friday that his wife was discharged from the hospital on Thursday and sent to an in-patient rehabilitation facility, where she will undergo physical therapy to restore her mobility.

The state said that in the other cases, the Suffolk woman had been hospitalized and later discharged and the Middlesex woman was not hospitalized.


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Symptoms include a high fever and flu-like symptoms. Most people who contract West Nile show no symptoms. Those over the age of 50 are at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Last year, there were six cases in humans, and no deaths.

The diagnoses of the state’s first human cases for 2018 were announced days after authorities increased the statewide risk level for the West Nile virus from low to moderate. They cited a rise in the number of mosquitoes carrying the virus and the hot, wet weather that created ideal breeding conditions for the insects.

It is only the second time that public health officials had raised the risk level statewide. The first time was in 2012, when there were 33 human cases of West Nile recorded in the state.

This year, the state already seen a 6 percent jump in the number of mosquitoes that have tested positive for the virus, according to state data.


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More than 160 communities in the state are deemed to be at moderate risk for the virus.

Saffrin said he is confident his wife will recover.

“She was a very active person,” Saffrin said of his wife. “She did Zumba class twice a week, yoga class twice a week. . . . If she had not been nearly as fit to begin with, this might have been considerably more serious.”

In one week, doctors will evaluate her progress and decide if she is well enough to go home.

Cynthia Fernandez can be reached at cynthia.fernandez@globe.com.


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