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Another virus of concern

Season for West Nile

In the midst of the on-going coronavirus pandemic there is another virus not to be overlooked – West Nile.

“It shows up usually in August, from beginning to end,” said Michelle Dethloff, North Dakota Department of Health Division of Disease Control. “Right now we are in the time that the majority of our cases start showing up.”

The West Nile virus is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Most people who become infected with West Nile virus experience no symptoms, but for others the disease is much more harmful.

“Some develop neuroinvasive disease. They get a stiff neck, headaches, fever, become confused and can enter into a coma. Paralysis too. It can even result in death,” said Dethloff.

Dethloff said that people who are infected with West Nile, even what is considered a mild case, can have lingering tiredness and fatigue that can last for months.

“We don’t know how long it will last. It is case by case,” said Dethloff. “For most people it is a year after infection before they are feeling normal with no lingering symptoms.”

So far in 2020 there has been only two cases of West Nile virus identified and reported to the ND Department of Health, one in Stark County and one in Hettinger County. As recently as 2018 the number of cases in the state was 204 – 61 of which resulted in hospitalization and two deaths. Last year the number of cases dropped to nine, but with the prime weeks for West Nile yet to come, Dethloff advises people to remain aware of how to best avoid the virus.

“Between dusk and dawn is the prime feeding time for mosquitoes,” reminded Dethloff. “You need to wear repellent. I will say this, sometimes you don’t realize mosquitoes are biting. You are not seeing them. North Dakota has some of the highest per capita cases in the country. I hope that gets people’s attention.”

In addition to using an insect repellent, protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks help keep mosquitoes from biting a person’s skin. Other precautions around the home include eliminating any standing and stagnant water and keeping a well-trimmed lawn.

This year, primarily due to coronavirus and social distancing guidelines, there has been an increased number of people spending more and more time outdoors camping, fishing and hiking. That means increased chances of coming in contact with virus carrying mosquitoes.

For many people their work requires them to be outside for several hours a day. An example is the majority of the staff at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Terry Steinwand, director, says personnel in his department deal with possible exposure to disease carrying ticks and mosquitoes every day.

“We’re always are of it,” said Steinwand. “It is something to be concerned about. It’s part of the risk of being out in the field for us.”

Steinwand said he has not heard of any cases of West Nile virus in his agency this year.

West Nile can affect anybody but it is usually people over the age of 60 who are most vulnerable. Those bitten by an infected mosquito may not have any symptoms for up to two weeks. Others in as few as two days. Once infected with West Nile a person is primarily at the mercy of the disease.

“There is no human vaccine or specific treatments for West Nile virus, so it is important to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites,” said Dr. Benjamin Schram, NDDOH.

“People who have had it will tell you it’s not mild,” said Dethloff. “It is still lost work, potentially hospitalization and lots of time being seriously sick, for weeks and months.”

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