First two West Nile cases confirmed in Alberta

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Alberta Health encourages residents protect themselves over the long weekend

After the province confirmed the first two human cases of West Nile virus for 2013 on Wednesday, health officials are urging Albertans to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes over the long weekend.

Both a man and woman between the ages of 40 and 55 were infected in mid-August, one in Alberta Health Service’s south health zone and other in the central zone.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito.

In both cases the affected individuals contracted West Nile Non-neurological Syndrome, the less serious form of the virus that can cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, skin rash, swollen glands and headache. Health officials say about 20 per cent of cases are non-neurological.

The more rare West Nile Neurological Syndrome is a debilitating – sometimes fatal – illness that affects the brain.

Since there is no vaccine or specific treatment for the virus, health officials encourage people to be more diligent about preventing mosquito bites.

“This is a reminder to all Albertans, particularly seniors, to take precautions when enjoying the outdoors,” said Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. “Wear insect repellent with DEET; wear long-sleeved, light-coloured shirts and pants; wear a hat; and consider staying indoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.”

The first human case of West Nile virus was reported in Alberta in August of 2003.

Spokesperson for Alberta Health, John Muir, explained the risk of contracting West Nile is greatest in the summer months to the first full frost in the fall.

“Generally it’s this time of year, every year, when we see a couple cases usually in the southern parts of the province,” he said.

“We’re heading into the downward side of the risk right now, but especially into the long weekend and early parts of September, people still need to be vigilant and take precautions against West Nile and mosquito bites.”

Last year the Public Health Agency of Canada reported nine clinical cases of West Nile virus in Alberta. Of those cases, seven were acquired in the province and one resulted in death.

“West Nile is here to stay in Alberta and it’s endemic within the mosquito population of the province,” added Muir.

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