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Health officials confirm state's first West Nile virus case of the year reported in Yellow Medicine County

An unidentified man from Yellow Medicine County is Minnesota's first confirmed West Nile virus case of the year.

The Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday that the patient was hospitalized in late July with West Nile encephalitis.

Dave Neitzel, a Health Department epidemiologist specializing in diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks, said Minnesota has entered the period of highest risk for West Nile virus in humans.

"We've had a bumper crop of pest mosquitoes this summer, but the species that carry West Nile virus are most abundant in late summer," he said.

Although West Nile virus, which is transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes, can occur anywhere in Minnesota, the risk is greatest in western and central counties, which have the greatest number of Culex tarsalis mosquitoes. This species is the primary mosquito carrier of the West Nile virus in Minnesota.

Most people who get the virus have few or no symptoms. In a small percentage, however, severe central nervous system disease can result. These cases can cause long-lasting neurological effects and are sometimes fatal. The greatest risk of severe or fatal disease is among older adults.

Symptoms show up within three to 15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito, and can include headache, high fever, rash, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, convulsions, paralysis and coma.

Since 2002, Minnesota has had 455 confirmed cases of West Nile virus and 14 deaths.

Health officials are urging people to use mosquito repellent and to minimize outdoor activity during the prime mosquito feeding times of dusk and dawn. Long-sleeved shirts and pants also can help reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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