LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) – Residents in Maryland are being urged to take measures to prevent the spread of West Nile virus.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced this week that annual monitoring for West Nile has begun in Maryland. State health officials are urging residents to avoid exposure to mosquitoes.

Last year, 16 cases of West Nile in people were reported in Maryland. Mosquitoes carrying the virus have already been found in Virginia this summer.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, body aches, pain in eyes, skin rash and swollen glands – though symptoms may not show at first. Officials say these symptoms can appear three to 15 days after coming in contact with an infected mosquito.

Less than one percent of people exposed to the virus will develop more severe infections with symptoms such as headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis, according to officials.

In rare cases, the disease can be fatal. People over 50 years old have the highest risk of developing severe illness.

Travelers who experience fever, joint pains, and other symptoms such as headache, muscle pains or rash should seek medical care.

“We expect to see West Nile virus cases each year because it is established in Maryland, but we are also looking for imported mosquito-borne diseases in Maryland residents,” said Dr. Katherine Feldman, State Public Health Veterinarian at DHMH. “Maryland residents returning from a visit in the Caribbean who experience fever should seek medical care and make their provider aware of their recent travel.”

Health officials are also monitoring “imported mosquito-borne diseases” like chikungunya. The virus is similar to dengue, another serious mosquito-borne infection that is common throughout the Caribbean and can be imported into Maryland. Common symptoms of infection are fever and joint pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about chikungunya virus.

Tips to protect from mosquito bites, courtesy of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:

  • Avoid areas of high mosquito activity
  • Avoid unnecessary outdoor activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active
  • Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats when concerned about mosquito exposure
  • Use an EPA-registered insect repellent according to package directions

Residents are also urged to check for standing water in yards and gardens at home that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes gravitate to even small amounts of water.

To eliminate mosquito-breeding areas:

  • Replace grooved drain pipe-off downspouts with smooth PVC piping. Each trough in the grooved pipe is a potential breeding ground
  • Clean rain gutters to allow water to flow freely
  • Remove old tires or drill drainage holes in tires used as playground equipment
  • Turn over wading pools, wheelbarrows, wagons and carts when not in use. Flush water from bottom of plant holders twice a week
  • Replace water in birdbaths at least twice a week
  • Turn garbage can lids upside down and make sure trash receptacles are empty of water
  • Fix dripping faucets
  • Aerate ornamental pools and water gardens or stock with fish and use a circulating filter system

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