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A Richmond man has the first human case of West Nile virus infection reported in Virginia this year, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.

The man reported getting sick July 3 and spent more than a week hospitalized. West Nile virus is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes and can cause mild to life-threatening illness.

“He is an older gentleman who spent a lot of time working in the outdoors,” said Dr. Danny Avula, deputy director for the Richmond City Health District. “He was in critical condition. He had severe neurological symptoms, including meningitis.”

The 60 something year old man has recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital.

In 2010, Virginia reported five human cases of West Nile virus infection — one in Roanoke and two each in Fairfax and Alexandria. There was one death last year in the state, one of the Alexandria cases.

Federal health experts say about 80 percent of people who get West Nile virus infections have no symptoms or mild symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

But a few get sick enough to need hospitalization, and a subset of those develop potentially fatal nervous-system complications, including encephalitis, meningitis and paralysis.

There have been 27 human cases of West Nile virus infection in the United States this year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. There has been one death, in Texas.

West Nile virus also can be spread by blood transfusion, so blood donations are now screened for the virus. According to the CDC, blood donations from six people who had no symptoms of illness tested positive for West Nile virus.

Scientists think West Nile virus, commonly found in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East, first appeared in the United States around 1999.

Avula said testing has confirmed West Nile-positive mosquitoes in the city, primarily in the northern and eastern areas of the city. He said surveillance is showing more West Nile-infected mosquitoes than last year.

“The main message is prevent bites,” Avula said. “The other thing is really try to eliminate (mosquito) breeding grounds.”

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