An unusually wet spring and localized flooding in some Idaho communities have public health officials concerned about higher than normal mosquito populations that could spread West Nile virus.
“The last time we saw this type of spring moisture was in 2006, when Idaho led the nation with confirmed cases of West Nile virus.” says Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, Deputy State Epidemiologist for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “The extra moisture and flooding could lead to greater mosquito breeding habitat, so we encourage people to check and repair screens in their homes and remove standing water on their property to protect themselves from mosquitoes and reduce the possibility of West Nile infection.”
People who are bitten by an infected mosquito may experience headaches, body aches and a mild fever. Although rare, the virus can lead to serious illness, especially in people over the age of 50. Last year, 38 Idahoans tested positive for West Nile infections, with the virus contributing to the deaths of two people. In 2006, West Nile virus infected more than 1,000 people, contributing to the deaths of 23.
To protect themselves, people can avoid mosquitoes when they are most active, between dusk and dawn. In addition, they can:
West Nile virus does not usually affect most domestic animals, including dogs and cats, but can cause severe illness in horses and certain species of birds. Although there is not a vaccine available for people, there are several vaccines available for horses. People are advised to contact their veterinarian about vaccinating their horses.
“While we can’t predict what kind of mosquito season we’ll have, now is the time to take precautions to ‘Fight the Bite,’” Tengelsen says. “We know from experience how serious an outbreak of West Nile virus can be and encourage everyone to do their part to prevent infections this year.”
Additional information about the virus is available from the Department of Health and Welfare’s web site at http://www.westnile.idaho.gov.
(Editors: For more information please contact your local Public Health District Public Information Officer, your local mosquito abatement district, or the Department of Health and Welfare’s Public Information Officer Emily Simnitt at 208-334-0693.)