By Joel van der Veen
Mosquito season has hit southern Saskatchewan, and health experts are urging the public to take proper precautions when they go outside this summer to avoid West Nile virus.
While no humans, animals or mosquitoes in Saskatchewan have tested positive for the virus so far this year, the Culex tarsalis species of mosquito, responsible for its transmission, is beginning to emerge in the province, said Dr. David Torr, medical officer of health for both Cypress Health Region and Heartland Health Region.
“Typically, we expect to see the Culex around late July,” he told the Times-Herald on Friday. “Now that the weather is really warm, it’s a good breeding time for them.”
Most people who contract West Nile virus will not experience any illness or symptoms, but up to 20 per cent will develop fever, headaches, pain, nausea, vomiting, swelling or a rash.
In more severe cases — less than 1 per cent of infections — the sufferer can develop West Nile neurological syndrome. This condition, which includes encephalitis or inflammation of the brain, can lead to disorientation, coma, paralysis or even death.
Warm temperatures over the past week have provided an excellent breeding environment for the Culex tarsalis. According to a bulletin issued by the provincial ministry of health, the second generation of the species has started to appear in southern Saskatchewan.
Other breeds of mosquitoes are also appearing locally, but Torr said most of these are “nuisance” species that are not known to carry West Nile virus. Despite the lower risk from the species, he still advised the public to take proper precautions when going outside.
“Even for the nuisance ones, they create nasty, itchy lesions especially in kids, that they then scratch, and they can get infected,” he said. “It’s still wise to use (mosquito) repellent whenever you’re out.”
He recommended that customers make sure to buy the appropriate type of repellent; some brands are formulated for camping and other deep-woods activities, while others are safer for families and children.
Taking precautions against mosquito bites, he said, is part of the “due diligence” of enjoying the outdoors in summertime, along with staying hydrated, consuming water instead of pop and other sugary drinks, and avoiding spending too much time in the sun.
For more information, see Saturday's edition of the Times-Herald.