We have reached the time of year when West Nile Virus starts to become a concern in southern Manitoba.
West Nile Virus is carried by Culex Tarsalis mosquitoes. Dr. Davinder Singh with Southern Health says the season for concern runs from June to September. However, historically, in mid-July is when mosquitoes carrying the virus are first detected in our province. As of Friday, July 31st, there have been no West Nile Virus positive mosquitoes trapped in Manitoba.
"I would classify the overall threat in Manitoba as low," says Dr. Singh. "We actually haven't detected any mosquitoes, people or any of the animals that we look at, so birds and horses."
Having said that, Dr. Singh says the number of Culex Tarsalis mosquitoes trapped in Manitoba is rising.
According to Dr. Singh, Culex Tarsalis mosquitoes like warm evening weather and are most active at dusk and dawn. He notes those are the times when people need to focus the most on prevention. But, having said that, he says mosquitoes can be active any time of day.
"At this point with the numbers that we're seeing currently, it would be expected to be a below average year in terms of the overall risk in the numbers for both mosquitoes and people that could be infected with West Nile Virus," suggests Dr. Singh. "However, that doesn't completely get rid of the risk."
Dr. Singh says 80 per cent of the time, someone infected with West Nile Virus will show no symptoms. About 20 per cent of the time they will have a mild to moderate flu illness, with symptoms like headache, fever, fatigue or body aches.
Very rarely, in fact less than one per cent of the time, someone will have a severe form of the disease which could impact their central nervous system. This could include severe headaches, confusion, muscle weakness and in extreme cases paralysis or a coma.
"There's actually no specific treatment for West Nile Virus," says Dr. Singh. "There is no medication or vaccines, either specifically to prevent or treat West Nile Virus."
He notes if people are experiencing severe symptoms, they should seek care.
To lessen the threat of being bitten by a Culex Tarsalis mosquito, Dr. Singh suggests using mosquito repellent and wearing light coloured, loose fitting clothing. He notes longer sleeves and pants are suggested at dusk and dawn.
He also recommends removing standing water around your house and keeping your grass mowed short.