Vooght: viral contraction higher, but still low
© Esteban Armijo/Flickr
The culex tarsalis mosquito is "the best vector that there is" for spreading the West Nile Virus, according to Dr. Mark Vooght with the Five Hills Health Region.
By Nathan Liewicki
Above seasonal temperatures in and around Moose Jaw have recently brought with them a swarm of new mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus.
According to Dr. Mark Vooght, medical health officer for the Five Hills Health Region, the risk of actually contracting the flavivirus is not very high. Nevertheless, the data he received last Friday — for the week of Aug. 11 to 17 — notes that more mosquitoes in the region are carrying the potentially fatal disease.
"What I did was have a look at the CDC traps in our health region — in the south and in and around Moose Jaw — and I saw the percentage of culex tarsalis mosquitoes has gone up, ranging anywhere between 20 to 61 per cent," noted Vooght.
In some cases, more than two-thirds of the mosquitoes in the traps during the aforementioned week were buzzing around with the flavivirus.
"It's a small increase in West Nile Virus risk," said Vooght. "This goes hand-in-hand with the warmer weather we have been having, and it's basically going to continue — that risk — until we experience cooler, night time weather."
Vooght expects cooler overnight temperatures will start decreasing the biting activity of culex tarsalis mosquitoes sometime in the next 10 to 14 days. These mosquitoes tend to remain grounded if it's cooler than 15 C.
Still, that's no guarantee if temperatures continue to stay well above average for this time of year.
With more West Nile-carrying mosquitoes flying from person to person, extracting samples of blood, how does one know they have contracted the virus?
The answer to that question may not be as clear to people as they might like to hear, especially when symptoms are not always apparent.
"What we say is that there probably are some cases that occur that could have absolutely no symptoms," Vooght stated.
Some of those symptoms include off-coloured skin, a light fever or minor aches and pains in the body.
Vooght added that those who know they have been affected by the virus note the weakness they felt in their bodies is quite pronounced.
"They really feel tired. You really feel you can't pick your arms and legs up. This comes from big strapping farmers who tell me that it's really quite debilitating."
The bigger question about the virus, however, is that since there have been "no human cases yet reported in Saskatchewan," according to Vooght, how are health officers testing for the disease?
"The thing is, there's not really a treatment for West Nile Virus," said Vooght. "Even (in) severe cases they're just given a supportive type of treatment."
Vooght admitted that it is a diagnostic challenge when dealing with West Nile, but he advises people to remain hydrated, use bug spray with DEET repellent and cover up exposed areas of skin with long-sleeved shirts or pants.
These precautions are especially helpful from 8 p.m. to about midnight. That's when culex tarsalis mosquitoes are adamantly flying around, looking to drink blood.
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks.