West Nile: a real danger or cry of wolf?

A Big Deal? :: While we're moving into prime time for moquitoes carrying West Nile disease, is it really that big of a deal? Last year just three deaths in Minnesota were attributed to West Nile.  (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
A Big Deal? :: While we're moving into prime time for moquitoes carrying West Nile disease, is it really that big of a deal? Last year just three deaths in Minnesota were attributed to West Nile. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Minnesota has recorded its first fatality from the West Nile virus. A Minneapolis woman in her 70s died in early July from the disease, which is primarily carried by mosquitoes.

As the Science Buzz’s resident expert on mosquitoes (see the recent posting “That Really Bites”), I’m here to open a discussion about whether or not West Nile is something to be feared. For several summers now we’ve been receiving media reports about West Nile and its deadly consequences.

But last year, there were only 45 recorded cases of West Nile disease in Minnesota and just three reported deaths. Is this something we should really be freaking out about? What do you think? Personally, I'm more afraid of surviving my drive home than being bitten by a mosquito.

According to information from the Minnesota Department of Health, we’re now moving into the highest risk time period for West Nile – mid-July through September. That’s when the mosquitoes most likely to carry West Nile will be hatched and feeding. But this year’s dry weather conditions have made for less standing water, the prime hatching grounds for mosquitoes.

The health department does share these tips to help lower your West Nile risk:

  • While outside among mosquitoes, use a good mosquito repellent, such as those containing no more than 30 percent of the active ingredient DEET. Products containing the active ingredient picaridin are also now commercially available.
  • Minimize outdoor activities at dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are most actively feeding.
  • Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants if you have to spend time in an area where mosquitoes are biting.
  • Eliminate mosquito breeding sites on and around your property - including items such as old tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, cans, other containers, and anything else that can hold a small amount of water. Change the water in birdbaths and horse troughs at least weekly.

The state health department also is gearing down its alarms about West Nile. It added that most people bitten by an infected mosquito will experience a less severe form of the disease or no symptoms at all. Fewer than one out of every 150 people who become infected will become severely ill with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. The elderly are at greatest risk of developing encephalitis from a West Nile infection. The fatality rate for those who develop encephalitis is around 10 percent.

Symptoms of the illness usually show up two to 15 days after being bitten. They can include headache, high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis and coma. People who suspect that they may have West Nile should see a physician.

For more information on West Nile and other forms of mosquito-related encephalitis visit the Health Department website or call 651-201-5414 in the Twin Cities area, or 1-877-676-5414 in greater Minnesota, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Cry Wolf? I think you mean, "Cry Mosquito."

posted on Thu, 07/27/2006 - 5:50pm
Taara's picture
Taara says:

The threat of WNV is very real to those of us in the animal industry. Although vaccines are available to the animal industry, the fact that they are not available for human protection is very disturbing. I make sure that all of our horses are vaccinated and boostered twice a year for WNV but I get just as many bites as some of my baby horses. Does this mean that I am more at risk? I don't know, but as long as I can protect my animals, I will. As soon as a vaccine is available for humans, I will be using that also. Protection is the only way to control the spread.

posted on Fri, 07/28/2006 - 9:25am
JARVIS's picture
JARVIS says:

I think the west nile disease is very real. It is something, especially people in MN need to worry about.

posted on Wed, 05/21/2008 - 10:34am

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