By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — A North Salem resident has contracted West Nile virus, health officials announced yesterday.
The Salem Board of Health alerted residents to the diagnosis yesterday afternoon, after receiving confirmation from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Salem resident Maureen Carr said the West Nile patient, a woman in her 70s, is a member of her family. The family received a West Nile diagnosis from a local doctor at Salem Hospital on Monday.
It’s been a rough week for the family, Carr said.
Carr said her relative was very sick and was hospitalized in intensive care for three days. As the week wore on, the family became increasingly frustrated that city officials were not letting residents know about the diagnosis.
“We feel people should have been notified sooner. Time is of the essence with something like this,” Carr said. “... I think it’s important that people know.”
Carr, who is a nurse practitioner, stressed that she spoke with the Salem News yesterday on behalf of her family and not in a professional capacity.
The relative is still recovering in a local rehabilitation facility, Carr said. The family is certain she contracted the mosquito-borne virus in Salem, since she had not been outside the city recently.
“It’s just so sad. It happened so quickly, out of the blue,” Carr said. “This was an extremely healthy woman. ... She was at my son’s wedding a few weeks ago, dancing. We say our prayers and hope things turn around.”
Salem Health Agent Larry Ramdin said protocol dictates that the public is not notified of a West Nile diagnosis until test results from a local doctor can be confirmed by a state lab. The Salem Board of Health did not receive state confirmation until yesterday afternoon, he said.
This marks the second human case of West Nile announced in Essex County this week. On Monday, state health officials said an Essex County man in his 60s contracted the virus, was hospitalized, released and is expected to be OK.
Health officials did not release specifics about either patient because of patient privacy laws.
While West Nile virus can be fatal, the majority of people infected exhibit no symptoms. A small percentage have flu-like symptoms, and an even smaller percentage — less than 1 percent, health officials say — develop severe illness. People over 50 are more at risk of developing severe illness.
This summer, mosquitoes from Salem, Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Middleton, Hamilton, Swampscott and numerous other Essex County towns have tested positive for West Nile virus.
Insecticide spraying was scheduled for parts of Beverly and Peabody this week.
North East Mosquito Control increased its testing of mosquitoes in North Salem this week when the case was tentatively diagnosed by a local doctor. As of yesterday, none of the North Salem mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile, health officials said.
“Because no additional mosquitoes with the virus have been found, coupled with the fact that mosquito activity is severely diminished at temperatures below 50º F, additional spraying in Salem is not being considered at this time,” Salem’s Board of Health wrote in a press release. “At present, precautionary measures are the best way to protect oneself from mosquitoes.”
Ramdin said yesterday’s diagnosis is the first human case of West Nile virus he’s encountered during his two years in Salem.
Last year, 33 cases of West Nile virus were reported in Massachusetts residents, according to state officials. Essex County had two human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, last year, but no West Nile virus. Both diseases are carried by mosquitoes.
Yesterday’s confirmation of West Nile in Salem was the state’s fifth human case of the virus this year.
The state’s sixth case — also announced yesterday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health — is a woman from Middlesex County in her 50s, who was never hospitalized.
“West Nile virus is present in the Northeast,” said Ramdin. “It’s been with us for a while and it’s going to be here.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Public health officials urge people to use common-sense measures to avoid West Nile and other mosquito-carried illness:
For more information on West Nile virus and its prevention, visit www.mass.gov/dph/wnv or call 1-866-627-7968.