Small insect, big danger

Sue Kraft
Culex Taesalis species

Cases of West Nile virus reported in Benson, Ramsey counties; caution urged

An outbreak of West Nile virus in Texas has been making headlines across the nation, but the threat isn't limited to the southern states, says Myron Asleson Supervisor of Devils Lake's Public Ways Department.

“We have a city worker laid up right now with West Nile,” he said during a phone interview Monday. “He's recovering from several things, but West Nile is one of them.”

In the past two weeks, fourteen human cases of West Nile virus have been reported in the state, including patients from Benson and Ramsey counties.

The state is keeping a close eye on the situation and residents are urged to take precautions.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health, there are currently 36 mosquito species living in the state, but the Culex Taesalis species is the primary transmitter of the virus.

There are approximately 100 trapping sites across the state, covering all 53 counties, to identify the possible danger zones.

“We send in samples once a week,” explained Aselson. “Two weeks ago we had 14 mosquitos and 10 of them were Culex.”

It is unknown how many, if any, carried the virus.

Asleson said aerial spraying was conducted in city limits last Monday, but the weather has prevented any follow up spraying.

“We are set to go every morning, but it's been too cold,” he said. “At 55 degrees mosquitos dive for cover and the chemical we use is a contact killer. If the mosquitos are not flying, it does no good for us to spray.”

Asleson said a stipulation from the Health Department requires they stop spraying if they see a pedestrian outdoors, so they moved their primary spraying time to 4 a.m.

“If the mosquitos get bad, we'll start spraying in the evenings,” he said.

For now, Asleson noted, the best defense is to get rid of any standing water in the yard, where mosquitos can lay their eggs. Bird baths and containers with water should be changed every day or two to prevent the water from becoming stagnant.

“Get rid of that water,” Asleson said. “I can't emphasize that enough.”

He also advised wearing long sleeved shirts and pants between dusk and dawn, when the mosquitoes are most active, and using bug spray when outdoors for any length of time.

Busy year

The N.D. Department of Health said it has not detected West Nile virus activity like this since 2007, when there were 369 human cases reported in the state.

“We are starting to see significant West Nile virus activity in North Dakota and many parts of the country are seeing large numbers of cases,” said Alicia Lepp, epidemiologist with the N.D. Dept. of Health. “People need to be aware that there are mosquitos out there spreading disease even though the mosquitos are not as visible as in past years. People need to take the proper precautions to protect themselves from this serious disease.”

The southern part of the United States has been hit especially hard with the virus this year, with Texas, Mississippi and other states reporting large numbers of victims.

In Dallas County alone, there have been more than 200 people sickened and 10 deaths from the disease.