Anne Arundel health officials have reported the first confirmed case of West Nile virus in the county this year.

The victim, identified as a 48-year-old Severna Park area man, did not need to be hospitalized, said Elin Jones, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.

The case was reported on Sept. 29, Jones said. By comparison, she said, the first confirmed human case of West Nile virus in the county last year was reported Sept. 2. Overall in 2003, Jones said, there were seven confirmed cases of county residents contracting West Nile virus. Eight had been reported in Anne Arundel the previous year.

Health experts have credited the general decrease in West Nile cases in the region to a well-coordinated response from local agencies and a high level of public awareness. Officials have asked residents to continue to take the traditional precautions: Wear insect repellent when outdoors, and remove standing water from around homes.

"The word's out there," Jones said.

Most of the county residents with confirmed cases of West Nile last year "had the onset of their symptoms in September," Jones said. Consequently, "people still need to take precautions," she said.

"Mosquitoes are still out there," Jones said.

So far this year throughout Maryland, there have been 11 confirmed human cases of West Nile virus, with no deaths attributed to the disease, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, Maryland reported 73 cases of West Nile to the CDC, compared with 36 in 2002. The number of deaths related to West Nile virus in Maryland reached eight in 2003, compared with seven the previous year.

In 2002, West Nile began to spread from the state's population centers, such as Baltimore, to the Eastern Shore and other rural areas, a trend that continued last year in the state.

The virus was first detected in the United States in 1999. By 2002 there were 4,156 cases nationwide, and in 2003 the cases more than doubled, to 9,862, according to the CDC. However, the number of fatalities dropped last year, from 284 deaths in 2002 to 264.

Experts say that West Nile symptoms typically range from mild, flu-like discomfort to encephalitis and meningitis.

Most West Nile victims do not become severely sick, and many who contract the virus are unaware of it. Typically, only the most severe West Nile cases, involving people who have contracted meningitis or encephalitis, are reported.