Nevermind Zika, Minnesotans need to protect against West Nile infected mosquitos

While southern regions of the country need to closely monitor mosquitos for the Zika Virus, here at home, the average Minnesotan needs to safeguard against an illness you may have forgotten about: the West Nile Virus.

“We did see an increase in West Nile activity last year,” Kirk Johnson, vector ecologist at Metropolitan Mosquito Control District said.

“We’ve had four mosquito samples test positive for the virus already,” Johnson continued noting the virus thrives in warm weather causing warranted concern over an increase in human exposure.

“It’s something that occurs annually; we have human illnesses every year,” he added.

In 2015, the Minnesota Department of Health reported nine West Nile Virus cases and no deaths.

“Our real main concern when we talk about mosquito-borne disease is West Nile,” confirmed Elizabeth Schiffman, senior epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health

Last year, Johnson says there were 83 West Nile Virus cases in Minnesota, and five people died as a result of the disease.

Mosquitos that carry the virus have been in the state for more than a decade, but since they survive our winters, the disease looks like it’s here to stay.

“West Nile Virus, since it was introduced in Minnesota in 2002, is something we do encounter every year,” said Jeff Hahn, a University of Minnesota Extension Entomologist.

“This is a disease that is established in Minnesota,” Hahn added.

In fact, West Nile is Minnesota’s most commonly reported mosquito-borne disease.

As soon as warm weather season occurs, mosquitos that carry the virus surface from underground hibernation and start to feed generally on birds, which can mitigate the spread.

Already this year, the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District has had four mosquito samples test positive for the virus. The discoveries were made in Anoka, Scott and Dakota Counties, but experts expect to see an increased risk for human exposure in mid-July.

“It’s statewide,” Johnson said of the West Nile Virus concern.

More information is listed on the Minnesota Department of Health’s website here.

As for the best ways to protect yourself from West Nile exposure, Johnson says to wear a Deet or prokeratin-based repellant as well as long sleeves and pants. Finally, if those pesky mosquitos are in abundance or a persistent nuisance, get inside.