West Nile may have stronger impact in '09

While Nebraskans have been keeping an eye to the sky with the very active spring and early summer, many are not watching the danger that may be lurking in their own backyards. West Nile Virus is still a threat in the plains states, and one health official says this year may be more severe than last year.

Cristee McColloch, with the Sandhills District Health Department in Ogallala, this year may be worse than last year. She says this year’s caseload may be worse because of all the rain and standing water — which helps mosquitoes to thrive. West Nile is spread through the bite of a mosquito that has fed on an infected bird.

McColloch says the very young, the elderly and those with compromised or depleted immune systems need to be especially careful as the symptoms of West Nile can be anything from minor fatigue to death. She says if you start getting some of the preliminary symptoms, seek medical attention.

Symptoms may include a headache that hangs on for a few days or a low-grade fever that won’t go away. McColloch says the disease affects everyone differently so it’s best not to take any chances. She says one in 150 people will get the very severe version of West Nile, which can include neurological disfunction. Another 20-percent will see mild symptoms that’ll last two or three weeks, while nearly 80-percent will have virtually no symptoms at all. She says there may be a little fatigue for two or three days, but that’s it.

Health officials recommend using insect repellent that contains the chemical DEET, but remind people that no single preventative measure is 100% effective so multiple steps should be taken. West Nile Virus season normally peaks towards August and September, though health officials are beginning their yearly surveillance program as hot, wet conditions are expected to continue on the plains, at least for the short term.

Thanks to Josh Mackey, KOGA, Ogallala

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