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NM reports year’s first human case of West Nile

Health officials confirmed that New Mexico has its first human case of West Nile virus in 2020. West Nile is transmitted by mosquitoes. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SANTA FE — New Mexico health officials confirmed Thursday that the state has its first human case of West Nile virus infection this year.

The Health Department said the patient, a San Juan County man in his 50s, is recovering after being hospitalized.

Transmitted by mosquitoes, West Nile can sometimes be fatal. Symptoms of the milder form of illness can include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue. The more severe form can also involve disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions and paralysis.

“At a time where all of us are focused on COVID-19, we still must remember common seasonal viruses like West Nile,” state Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said. “West Nile virus can be a serious health concern anywhere in New Mexico where mosquitoes are active.”

Mosquito populations increase when temperatures are warm and standing water is accessible. Female mosquitoes can lay hundreds of eggs in a small amount of water, and officials say it takes only one bite from an infected mosquito to make a person sick.

The state has had West Nile cases every year since the virus was introduced to New Mexico in 2003. Last year, there were 40 cases in New Mexico, including four fatal cases. In 2018, there were seven confirmed cases, with one reported death.

There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent a West Nile infection. Older adults and those with health issues are at highest risk of becoming seriously ill or dying when they become infected, according to the Health Department.

Horses also can get sick with West Nile virus.