Precautions advised as West Nile Virus risk rises during the summer

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Southwest Saskatchewan residents and visitors are being advised to take precautions against mosquitoes this summer now that the mosquito species that carries West Nile Virus is beginning to populate the region.

While the July 10 provincial West Nile Virus report lists all of Saskatchewan in low to minimal risk, Saskatchewan Health officials are reminding people to take precautions to avoid being bit now that Culex tarsalis mosquitoes are becoming active and present in higher numbers. West Nile Virus is present in Saskatchewan during summer, and the risk typically peaks between mid-July and September.

Most people who become infected with West Nile Virus experience no immediate symptoms or have very mild illness (fever, headaches, body aches). A small number of people develop a more serious illness called West Nile Virus neuroinvasive disease, which includes encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. The elderly and people with certain medical conditions are at higher risk of developing the severe form of West Nile Virus infection.

“Most West Nile Virus infections usually improve on their own, so there is no need to seek medical attention or to get laboratory tests,” Saskatchewan’s Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Denise Werker said. “However, if you develop serious symptoms such as severe headaches, persistent high fever with stiff neck, confusion, seizures, or paralysis, see a health care provider immediately.”

“The number of infected Culex tarsalis mosquitoes may rise quickly if we get prolonged hot, dry weather in July and August,” Provincial West Nile Virus Coordinator Phil Curry said. “If you plan to be outside when mosquitoes are active, take precautions to protect yourself from bites.”

Taking the following preventive measures can minimize exposure to mosquito bites.  

- Use appropriate insect repellent when outdoors. Products with DEET are the most effective.

- Cover up. Wear light-coloured, loose fitting, long-sleeved tops and long pants when outdoors.

- Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors between dusk and dawn when Culex tarsalis mosquitoes are most active.  

People are also encouraged to reduce mosquito habitats around the house and yard.

- Clear yards of items that can collect water.

- Regularly clean and empty bird baths and eavestroughs.

-Ensure rain barrels are covered with mosquito screen or are tightly sealed around the downspout.

- Keep bushes, shrubs and lawns clear of overgrowth and debris.

- Make sure door and window screens fit tightly and are free of holes.

Updated information on West Nile Virus including risk levels and maps and surveillance results will be posted every Friday before noon on www.saskatchewan.ca/westnile.

Organizations: Saskatchewan Health

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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