There haven't been as many mosquitoes in the air this season as other ones, but that doesn't mean it's clear sailing against cases of West Nile virus. The virus is still around and causing trouble here and there.
West Nile virus, according to the Division of Disease Control from the North Dakota Department of Health, is a virus that may cause different types of disease, such as fever or encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and is spread by mosquitoes that have the virus and then give it to humans by biting them. Anyone of any age is at risk, but older adults are more likely to develop severe systems.
Dr. Casmiar Nwaigwe, director of infectious disease for Trinity Health, sits at his desk. He said protection is key in preventing and protecting against the spread of West Nile virus. West Nile virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and on rare occasions, people can be infected through blood transfusions or receipt of an infected organ.
Most people who become infected with West Nile virus show no symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they usually are mild and include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and rash. More severe symptoms include confusion, convulsions, coma, paralysis or even death. Symptoms usually appear five to 15 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.
According to the fact sheet from the North Dakota Department of Health, West Nile virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and on rare occasions, people can be infected through blood transfusions or receipt of an infected organ. However, new tests have been developed to reduce the risk of blood or organ exposure and as a result, those infections are now very rare.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus and antibiotics will not work, but health care providers may offer supportive therapy like rest and fluids to help manage symptoms. A blood test can determine if a person has been exposed to the virus. People also build up immunity to West Nile virus, but since the virus is still new to the U.S., the length of time the immunity lasts is uncertain.
Dr. Casmiar Nwaigwe, infectious disease specialist and director of infectious disease for Trinity Health, said people can prevent the spread of West Nile virus by getting rid of standing water, protecting yourself from insect bites, wearing protective clothing and not picking up dead birds.
"Alert the authorities if you find a dead bird," Nwaigwe said. "Birds can be infected as well as humans, and so can horses."
Other ways of preventing the spread of the virus are through using insect repellent containing 15 to 30 percent DEET, staying inside from dusk to dawn if possible and checking windows to make sure there are no holes in the screens that allow mosquitoes to get indoors.
West Nile virus is commonly mistaken for other diseases, said Nwaigwe, like the common cold or just about any disease that causes fever, pain and fatigue. West Nile virus can also be mistaken for Lyme disease, he added.
One of the biggest problems with West Nile virus is that there is no known treatment, Nwaigwe said.
"It's a mosquito-borne illness so it's something we don't want to deal with, because most people don't want to use insect repellent around their home. It's a public health problem since it can be transmitted through blood transfusions," he said.
A common misconception about West Nile virus, Nwaigwe noted, is that because it can mimic other febrile illnesses, that doesn't always mean that it's West Nile virus.
"You should seek medical attention if you feel sick," he said. "Don't assume it's West Nile virus. Just because you're bitten by a mosquito doesn't mean you will get West Nile virus."
No one is entirely sure where West Nile virus came from, Nwaigwe said. It first was discovered in western Uganda in 1937 around the Nile River and Mediterranean Sea. It was discovered in the U.S. in New York in 1999 and then progressed westward. It's not clear why, though, Nwaigwe said.
There have been more cases of West Nile virus than one would expect, Nwaigwe added, and the cases have been more severe this year.
North Dakota does not have a high rate of West Nile virus cases compared to the northeast U.S. and Texas or Louisiana, Nwaigwe said.
"North Dakota is nowhere close to other states and it's not clear why," he said.
North Dakota has a lot of mosquitoes because they breed in ponds, and abandoned flood homes are a risk for increases in mosquitoes. However, there haven't been too many mosquitoes this year, he noted.
There have also been cases of West Nile viruses in Ward County, he added, but some cases aren't recorded because people don't report the cases or go to the doctor.
The most important message Nwaigwe said he could give to people about preventing and protecting against West Nile virus is to protect yourself against mosquito bites.
"If you're going to hang around outside, use repellent," Nwaigwe said. "If you feel fever or ill, seek medical attention. Don't just assume it's West Nile virus. Protection is key."