Another Bergen County resident with West Nile virus died this month, becoming the state’s second fatal case this year, the New Jersey Department of Health announced Monday.
The resident, who was described only as an elderly woman in a news release, follows the death of a 62-year Bergen County man earlier this month. A department spokesperson said she could not say if the woman died specifically from the virus, but confirmed that she had it when she died.
Over the past five years, nine people with the virus have died, including three in 2015, and officials said 2018 has been one of the worst as there were 31 human cases reported statewide so far this year.
“The number of human West Nile Virus cases is the highest we’ve seen since 2012, and the season is not over yet,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in the release. “The pattern of hot and wet weather this summer has led to an increase in mosquito populations and associated viruses.”
In 2017, there were eight human cases of West Nile reported and two people died, one person in Mercer County and another in Middlesex County.
The department of health said it was working with Bergen County officials to “minimize” the virus’ impact on the county.
“Bergen County officials have been proactive in spraying the highest risk areas for mosquitoes to protect the public,” Elnahal said in the release. “We are also working with local health departments across the state, who monitor cases and initiate responses as appropriate.”
There have been six West Nile cases in Bergen County – the highest of any county in the state, according to the department’s latest report.
Elnahal said the number of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus is the highest ever reported, particularly in the northwestern and central parts of the state where numbers are usually lower. There was also an increase in the number of birds that were sickened – or died – from the virus.
The virus is spread by the bite of a mosquito infected with the West Nile virus and cannot be spread from person to person.
Most people who are infected do not become sick and may not develop symptoms, but about 20-percent of infected people will develop West Nile fever, according to the department of health.
“West Nile virus most often causes mild symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches or a rash for healthy individuals, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems,” Elnahal said.
DEP officials said the warm and wet weather this summer has increased the mosquito population and businesses and residents can help control it by removing standing water from their properties.
“Residents should protect themselves by using repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants and avoiding the outdoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active,” Elnahal added.