West Nile virus discovered in western Idaho

Mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus (WNV) have been detected in Gem County, prompting public health officials to remind people to take precautions to fight the bite. The positive mosquitoes, which are the first detected in the state this year, were collected by the Gem County Mosquito Abatement District in a trap from the greater Emmett area.

“Disease-carrying mosquitoes will be around now until a killing frost so it is critical that you protect yourself and family members from their bite,” says Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, from the Idaho Division of Public Health. 

WNV is usually contracted from the bite of an infected mosquito; it is not spread from person-to-person through casual contact. Symptoms of infection often include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach, and back. In some cases the virus can cause severe illness, especially in people over the age of 50.

To reduce the likelihood of infection, avoid mosquitoes, particularly between dusk and dawn when they are most active. In addition, you should:

  • Cover up exposed skin when outdoors and apply DEET or other EPA-approved insect repellent to exposed skin and clothing. Carefully follow instructions on the product label, especially for children.
  • Insect-proof your home by repairing or replacing screens.
  • Reduce standing water on your property; check and drain toys, trays or pots outdoors which may hold water.
  • Change bird baths and static decorative ponds weekly as they may provide a suitable mosquito habitat.

Last year, 19 human cases of West Nile infection were reported from 15 Idaho counties, with no deaths. It was the first year that West Nile was detected in the northern Panhandle of the state, with a mosquito pool from Boundary County testing positive for the virus. In 2006, Idaho led the nation in West Nile human illnesses with almost 1,000 infections, which contributed to 23 deaths.

WNV does not usually affect domestic animals, including dogs and cats, but it can cause severe illness in horses and certain species of birds. Although there is no vaccine available for people, there are several vaccines available for horses. People are advised to keep their horses vaccinated annually.

For more information, visit www.westnile.idaho.gov.

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