According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment this week, about 80 percent of the state stands at a high risk level for west Nile virus. This includes Barton and all the surrounding counties, and Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider is fully aware of this.
“With all the rain we’ve been having during the past few days, we need to make sure and empty all standing water,” she said, noting this is the peak season for the disease. “West Nile is on the rise.”
Why standing water? Stagnant water in anything from a swimming pool to an empty pop can provide ideal breeding ground for the culex mosquito, the nasty critter that carries the potentially lethal virus.
In this week’s west Nile report from the KDHE, all but a handful counties in the extreme northeast corner of the state are in the high risk category. But, even those are at the moderate level, one notch up from high.
With the risk level being high, KDHE recommends that people over 50 or those who are immune compromised consider adjusting their outdoor activity to peak mosquito hours (from dusk to dawn). “Although for most people west Nile virus may not cause a great deal of concern, we encourage residents, especially our vulnerable populations, to take steps to prevent infection because of the potential for complications,” said Dr. Greg Lakin, chief medical officer, KDHE.
In an effort to stem the tide, both the cities of Great Bend and Hoisington will fog for mosquitoes Thursday night starting at 8 p.m. Great Bend will repeat this procedure on Thursdays through Sept. 20.
A widespread problem
KDHE divides the state in to six regions. Barton sits in KDHE’s North Central Region.
But regardless of the area, the reason for the high risk was the same, according to the KDHE. The risk level was “due to increase in historical human cases and culex species mosquito abundance remains higher than the same week in 2017.”
“Regardless of the West Nile virus risk level for your area, there is no such thing as being ‘risk-free,’” said Theresa Freed, KDHE deputy secretary of public affairs. “Take precautions when you are out in areas where mosquitoes are present.”
As of last Tuesday, a total of 45 states and the District of Columbia have reported west Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes this year, the Center for Disease Control reported. Overall, 231 cases of West Nile virus disease in people have been reported to CDC.
WNV case counts are updated weekly, Freed said. Human cases are reportable to KDHE, and so far there have been two this year, both in Johnson County.
Equine cases are reportable to the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Animal Health. Wildlife, Parks and Tourism also does some testing on wildlife.
“Both KDA and WPT send us courtesy reports of animal cases,” Freed said. “So far, we have had two animal cases reported to us as a courtesy.”
What is west Nile virus?
West Nile virus is the most common mosquito-borne disease in Kansas and the United States and most WNV infections occur in the late summer and early fall, the KDHE reports. WNV can be spread to people through mosquito bites, but it is not spread from person to person.
About one in five people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. Roughly one out of 150 infected people develop the more severe version of the disease, neuroinvasive disease, which includes swelling of the brain or brain tissue and, in some cases, death. There are no vaccines or medications to treat WNV. People who have had WNV before are considered immune.
Symptoms of WNV disease include fever, headache, weakness, muscle pain, arthritis-like pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and rash typically developing two to 14 days after a bite from an infected mosquito. People who are concerned about symptoms should speak with their physicians.