MORGANTOWN — Tests done by the Monongalia County Health Department have found mosquitoes with West Nile Virus in north-central West Virginia, but no cases have shown up in humans.
And, the health department is hoping to educate residents on preventative care so no cases are seen.
Dr. Lee Smith, county health officer and executive director of Monongalia County Health Department, said birds are natural carriers of West Nile. A flock of dead birds in one area is a good indication that West Nile is to blame.
Birds are burdened with pests such as ticks and mosquitoes, which feed from the birds. The mosquitoes then become carriers and can then transfer it through biting a human, horse, dog or any other warm-blooded animal.
Though it can impact animals, Smith said it’s not seen much in humans for a couple reasons.
“One, there isn’t that much of the infection in this area, so when we see it in the mosquitoes we want to put the word out that it’s present, but we don’t really see a lot of it in human beings,” he said.
For example, a person can be bitten and end up with the virus in their bloodstream, but only 20 percent are going to display symptoms. Eight out of 10 do not show symptoms and their immune systems will eradicate it.
Symptoms can include fever, headache, disorientation, weakness, tremors and in the more severe cases, coma, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.
Very rarely, a severe case will present itself. One in five will develop fever and other symptoms, one in 150 will develop a severe, sometimes fatal case. There is no vaccine, and if symptoms become severe, a patient will likely need medical care.
The older you are, the more severe it can be, said Smith, but age is not an indicator of how severe it can be. People over 50 can be at higher risk for severe symptoms.
Smith said the best thing to do is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Though many urban legends circulate about who mosquitoes would rather feed off of, Smith said mosquitoes can be attracted to carbon dioxide, body heat and lactic acid in perspiration, among other things.
Preventative measures are important to avoid the flying feeders. Using insect repellant is the primary way, said Smith. DEET is the mainstay of repellents used in this area.
“Long-sleeve shirts, long pants — if you’re going to be out in the woods,” Smith recommended. “Some mosquitoes actually like the cool. So, as you go into the trees where it might be 10 degrees or so cooler, you may find the mosquitoes there where they rest on the underneath of leaves and things,” he said.
This year, mosquito dunks — resembling a donut — have been used in the six-county region (Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Doddridge and Taylor). Smith said they are dunked in water and the chemical that’s in a mosquito dunk will kill any larva in the water. It’s non-toxic to other animals. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, and don’t need much more than a Coke bottle lid of water to breed in, said Smith.
“If there’s things that hold water and allow mosquitoes to breed, then we prefer that people empty those and drain those ditches and do those things to keep the mosquitoes from breeding,” he said.
Prior to this year there has not been a lot of testing for West Nile in this area, so Smith said, the health department decided to do that testing in the six-county region. Though some mosquitoes tested positive for the disease, there are not human cases.
As the area prepares for falling leaves and cooler temperatures, Smith said West Nile can still be present in autumn. As mosquitoes are somewhat temperature sensitive, by the time it cools down mosquitoes will wane until next year, said Smith. The chances of the contracting the virus are slim, but prevention remains important.
“We see the disease in the surveillance that we do and we know it’s present in the mosquitoes, but again we see no human cases here in West Virginia,” he said.