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Officials: Spike in West Nile worrying

August 25, 2018

A recent spike in the number of mosquitoes that tested positive for West Nile has local health officials concerned.

Nearly a quarter of samples taken since early July have indicated the presence of the virus, and positive tests are on pace to surpass those recorded all of last year, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health announced Thursday.

“Obviously, the season’s not over,” department Director of Environmental Services Dave Fiess said. “It is a little concerning.”

The disease is carried by mosquitoes that feed on infected birds and lay their eggs in swampy areas such as ditches and in areas of standing water such as unmaintained pools and old tires.

When transmitted to humans, symptoms are typically mild and include headache, dizziness and fatigue. In rare cases, the disease can cause coma and death.

Of 182 samples tested this summer, 43 were positive. The department analyzed 243 samples last year, and 43 tested positive for West Nile.

It is not clear what led to the increase this year, but health experts warn residents to remove standing water from their property. Residents can also report areas such as ponds that might serve as breeding grounds for the mosquitoes to the health department.

Fiess said the insects that carry West Nile need water only one-quarter-inch deep to lay their eggs. Containers such as toy buckets, plant pots and bird baths can harbor mosquito larvae, he said.

People can protect themselves from mosquitoes and West Nile by limiting time outside and wearing insect repellent when they are, a news release from the health department said. Installing screens on windows and doors and wearing loose, light-colored clothing can also keep the pests at bay.

West Nile has been reported in mosquitoes in 43 of the state’s 92 counties, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Hamilton County reported 59 positive tests, the most in the state.

Two human cases of the virus : in Hamilton and Vanderburgh counties : have been reported by the state.

Fiess called mosquitoes that carry West Nile “sneaky” and said they are less aggressive than some other types of the insects. He urged residents to be vigilant about protection.

“You might be sitting out on the back porch at 6 or 7 o’clock and you’re not getting swarmed, so you don’t put on your insect repellent,” Fiess said. “And then you might get bit.”

The disease has been found this year in 45 states and Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported 231 human cases of West Nile, as of Tuesday.

Eight people : including one in Ohio : have died from the disease, the agency reported.

People over age 50 and those with weak immune systems are most at risk for serious illness and death, the news release said.  

mleblanc@jg.net

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