In the midst of the worst drought in decades, and just when it seemed a lack of mosquitoes might be the only upside to dry weather, West Nile Virus rears its ugly head.
As of the first of August, 241 cases and four deaths have been reported in the United States, with 80 percent in Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, according to Debbie McGraw, director of the Pratt County Health Department. A few cases have been reported in Sedgwick County. Experts aren't sure why there is more West Nile activity than in recent years, she said.
Health departments are being urged to educate the public that June through September is the peak time for mosquitoes, with the highest number of insects usually present in mid-August.
Even though little water has fallen on the Plains, mosquitoes can still find places to breed. McGraw noted that she changes the water in the birdbath at her home every other day, and keeps fresh water in the dog's bowl. Old tires, abandoned swimming pools, folded tarps and any place that water stands should be checked and drained, she said. Larvacides are available at local stores. The product is shaped like a doughnut and apparently tastes good to mosquitoes, because they will move towards it when it's tossed into the water.
Long sleeves and long pants are recommended for mosquito protection, although McGraw noted that probably wouldn't be a popular option, given the heat. Insect repellents should contain DEET to be effective.
About 80 percent of the people infected with West Nile Virus will not have symptoms, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. McGraw said many of the symptoms are a lot like influenza — fever, headache, neck stiffness, nausea vomiting, swelling of the lymph nodes and sometimes a skin rash. More severe symptoms include disorientation, tremors, convulsion, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, paralysis and coma.
She recommends a three-day rule: anyone who has been sick for three days, needs to see a doctor, especially if they're having a low-grade fever (100-101 degrees) that's not going away.