By Bethany Bray
---- — An Essex County man in his 60s is the state’s fourth human case of West Nile virus this year.
The news, released by state health officials yesterday, marks the first time a human case of the mosquito-borne illness has been reported in Essex County.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health would not name the man’s hometown yesterday because of patient privacy laws. He was treated and released from a hospital and is expected to be OK.
“The epidemiological investigation conducted by DPH indicates that the patient was most likely exposed to infected mosquitoes in Essex County,” the agency wrote in a press release. “This area is already considered to be at moderate risk from West Nile virus and will remain at that level.”
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, Saugus, Lynn and numerous other Essex County towns have tested positive for West Nile Virus.
Mosquito insecticide will be sprayed in South Peabody this week, as a precaution. The Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control District will conduct spraying after dark, weather permitting. Residents should call the city’s health department at 978-538-5926 for full details.
Sharon Cameron, Peabody’s health director, said yesterday that the spraying is not in response to the county’s human case of West Nile Virus, but because mosquitoes collected in South Peabody last week tested positive.
“We felt it was prudent,” Cameron said.
Cameron also said she does not believe the human case of West Nile virus is from Peabody, because she hasn’t heard anything from state health officials this week.
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.
“This (Essex County) case underscores the fact that mosquito-borne illness remains a threat in Massachusetts and will continue to be until the first hard overnight frost,” the state press release said.
Precautions to avoid mosquito bites include using insect repellent; wearing protective clothing, including long sleeves; keeping outdoor activities to a minimum between dusk and dawn, when the bugs are most active; and getting rid of standing water near homes.
More information, including all WNV and EEE positive results from 2013, can be found at www.mass.gov/dph/mosquito or by calling the DPH Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.