Take precautions against West Nile Virus

July 5, 2012

Summer is here, and so are the culex tarsalis mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus.

Health officials are issuing their annual reminder for Saskatchewan residents to take precautions to reduce their exposure to the insects.

"By all means, get out and enjoy the summer weather, but make sure you're taking the appropriate precautions to keep from getting bitten by mosquitoes that might carry West Nile," Provincial West Nile Virus Coordinator Phil Curry said.

To reduce your risk of exposure to West Nile Virus, the following precautions are recommended:

  • using insect repellent containing DEET;
  • wearing protective clothing;
  • reducing time outdoors between dusk and dawn;
  • regularly cleaning and emptying containers that can collect water such as bird baths and eavestroughs;
  • clearing yards of old tires and other items that can collect water;
  • ensuring rain barrels are covered with mosquito screening or are tightly sealed around the downspout;
  • keeping screens on windows and doors in good repair; and
  • keeping bushes, shrubs and lawns clear of overgrowth and debris.

Most people who become infected with West Nile Virus will experience either no symptoms or only mild illness such as fever, headaches and body aches.

"If you're bitten by a West Nile Virus-infected mosquito, there is still a small risk of serious neurological illness like inflammation of the brain and, in rare cases, death," Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Moira McKinnon said. "People who develop severe symptoms such as unusually severe headaches, persistent high fever or confusion, need to seek medical attention immediately."

It's not easy to predict how many cases of West Nile Virus the province will see in a given year. The risk of West Nile virus varies from year to year and is dependent on the temperature and the amount of virus that is cycling in birds.

Typically, mid-July through August is considered a higher risk period for West Nile Virus, due to increased numbers of Culex tarsalis mosquitoes and warmer weather, which results in people spending more time outside. Last year, Saskatchewan's wet weather provided optimal conditions for mosquitoes, but the province did not report a single case of West Nile Virus in humans.

Despite that, Health officials caution that people should remain vigilant when it comes to minimizing their exposure.

Updated Surveillance Results, Risk Maps and Weekly "West Nile and Culex Reports" are posted every Friday morning on the Ministry of Health's website at www.health.gov.sk.ca/west-nile-virus. Additional information on protective measures and the West Nile Virus (symptoms, when to seek help) are available on the Ministry of Health's website and Healthline Online www.health.gov.sk.ca/healthline-online.