TRENTON — The year's first case of West Nile virus in a human has been confirmed in Hunterdon County — the earliest in the year a case has ever been detected in New Jersey.

The state Department of Health said a man in his 70s showed signs of meningitis on June 21 and was hospitalized for several days but is now home.

“This is the earliest a case of West Nile virus has been detected in New Jersey," Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said.

West Nile virus is an arboviral disease that people can contact through the bite of a mosquito that has fed on an infected bird. The disease is not directly transmitted from birds to humans. Last year, New Jersey had 61 human cases of West Nile virus.

Many people who have been infected with the illness do not show symptoms, which run the gamut of severity from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands, or skin rashes on the chest, stomach and back.

Severe symptoms include high fever, neck stiffness and swelling of the brain (encephalitis) which can lead to coma, convulsions and death. Less than 1 percent of infected people will develop severe symptoms. People over the age of 50 and people with weak immune systems are at greater risk of developing severe illness.

Elnahal said it is important that residents take steps to protect themselves by using bug repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants and avoiding the outdoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said another way to prevent the spread of West Nile is to control the mosquito population by dumping out standing water on your property.

"Anywhere that collects water can breed mosquitos, so checking flower pots, pet food and water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers and other places can reduce the risk of mosquito bites and the illnesses they can carry," McCabe said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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