With 18 human cases, Connecticut has had its worst season ever for West Nile virus. And though the mosquito season is ramping down, experts said it's not over.
Due to this summer's hot, mostly dry weather, it has been a hard year nationwide for West Nile, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause serious illness, and even death.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced there have been nearly 4,000 cases of the illness this year throughout the country, with roughly 1,400 of those occurring in Texas. There were at least 163 deaths nationwide, at least 54 in Texas.
Connecticut got off relatively easy, particularly since there have been no West Nile deaths here this year. But the state still broke its own record for human cases, said Dr. Theodore G. Andreadis, chief medical entomologist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. The station traps and tests mosquitoes for West Nile virus throughout the season.
There were 17 human cases in both 2002 and 2003, though Andreadis said two of the 2003 cases were in people who acquired the illness out of state.
Stamford was hit hardest, with five West Nile cases occurring in town residents. Of those, only two or three were hospitalized at Stamford Hospital, said Dr. Michael Parry, director of infectious diseases and microbiology at Stamford Hospital. Though the cases were few, particularly in the grand scheme of the hospital's overall caseload, Parry said West Nile patients typically require a lot of resources.
"The impact on the whole hospital census is insignificant, but these patients tend to be quite sick (when they come in)," Parry said. On that level, "this is a bigger impact than we've seen in past years."
After Stamford, Greenwich was next hardest hit, with two human cases. All the other affected towns -- which included Bridgeport, Danbury, Ansonia, Norwalk and Trumbull -- had one case. Of the 18 patients, about 10 were hospitalized.
Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious diseases at Bridgeport Hospital, said that to his knowledge, no West Nile patients had been hospitalized there. But, he said, many patients had been tested for the illness and it's been a concern throughout the summer.
Given the high number of cases nationwide, he said, it's not surprising that Connecticut hit an all-time high this year, and theorized that there might have been more cases that went undiagnosed. "About 95 percent these cases go unrecognized," he said.
The good news is that the season seems to be drawing to a close. Andreadis said the number of mosquitoes the station is trapping per day has declined dramatically from the season's peak. Last Thursday, between 300 and 400 mosquitoes were trapped, compared with the several thousand the station was trapping each day earlier in the season.
Though the season won't be over until the first frost hits, Andreadis thinks the end is near. Temperatures are supposed to be cool throughout the weekend, with lows expected to dip into the 40s.
Still, Andreadis said it's not a bad idea to stay somewhat vigilant about mosquitoes for a little longer.
"The risk of contracting the virus now is very, very low -- but it's not zero," he said.
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