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Maryland sees first West Nile virus death

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One person in Maryland has died from West Nile virus, health officials said Thursday, the first fatality from the mosquito-borne disease this year. No other fatalities have been reported in the D.C. region, although Virginia has four cases and the District has one, health officials said.

Nationwide, the number of West Nile virus cases this year has set a record.

The disease is spreading faster than it has in years past, partly because of a mild winter and several spring rains that allowed the mosquito population to build early.

A total of 1,590 cases, including 66 deaths, were reported through Tuesday, the highest number of cases by that time since West Nile was first detected in the country in 1999, federal health officials said this week.

More than 70 percent of the cases were in six states, which, in descending order, are Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Michigan, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

Nearly half the cases are from Texas, which reported 894, including 34 deaths, as of Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Maryland officials declined to divulge the victim’s age, sex or place of residence, as well as whether the victim had underlying medical conditions.

A spokeswoman for the health department said the victim was an adult.

There have been 13 human cases of West Nile in Maryland since July 1, two of which were in the capital area. All were adults.

Most people infected with the virus will not have symptoms. People who do develop illness usually have any combination of fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. The symptoms generally appear three to 15 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. In rare instances, West Nile virus can be fatal.

The number of human cases in Maryland has varied during the past several years. Last year, there were 19. In 2010, there were 23 cases. In the peak year of 2003, there were 73 human cases.

Health officials say that residents should use insect repellent when outdoors, especially at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

Residents should also eliminate mosquito breeding areas where rainwater collects by turning over or emptying birdbaths, flowerpots, buckets and barrels.

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