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West Nile found in Grand Forks: Officials urge precautions against mosquito bites

FNS Photo by Jesse Trelstad Ben Prather, vector control director for Cass County, checks sorts through a pile of collected mosquitoes on June 29, 2012, in West Fargo.

GRAND FORKS — Since the West Nile virus was discovered Wednesday in mosquitoes in the Grand Forks area, local officials are asking the public to take extra precautions to avoid being bitten.

Todd Hanson, supervisor for the mosquito control program in Grand Forks, said West Nile virus was detected in a pool of mosquitoes Tuesday at one of their 23 trapping locations around the city.

“It’s potentially a deadly disease,” Hanson said. “We want to notify the public as soon as possible and educate them so they know why they need to take precaution because mosquitoes can be more than a common nuisance.”

This is the first indication that West Nile virus has been transmitted to mosquitoes in 2014 in North Dakota, according to the state Department of Health.

Hanson said the two best safety measures people should remember is to use insect repellent that contains DEET and to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when going outdoors. Avoiding outdoor activities during dawn and sunset, especially in the evening and night hours, when the virus-carrying mosquitoes are most active is also important, he said.

“There’s an elevated risk now that it has been identified,” he said. “The most important thing is to avoid getting bitten.”

Both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks officials planned citywide spraying for mosquitoes Wednesday night.

“The mosquito population has been higher than normal with the increase in moisture,” Hanson said. “It is still somewhat elevated from where we want it to be.”

To help keep mosquito populations down, Hanson said homeowners should make efforts to clear standing water from their properties and keep grassy areas cut short, as these locations are ideal breeding grounds for the insects.

“Even water containers as small as a pop can is big enough to harbor thousands of mosquitoes,” he said.

The West Nile virus is not new to the area, with its first appearance in Grand Forks in 2002. In 2013, Hanson said the virus was first detected around the area in July. There were 127 human cases of West Nile virus reported to the NDDoH in 2013.

“We’re right on track for it to surface,” he said.

While prevention is the foremost solution to avoid getting infected, James Hargreaves, an infectious disease specialist at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, said most of the time the effects of West Nile are minimal.

“You may not have any symptoms at all,” he said. “It’s less likely you’ll develop a severe illness.”

Severe illness symptoms include fever, headaches, body aches, swollen lymph glands and sometimes neurological problems. One percent of people develop a more severe illness from the virus which can occasionally lead to death, Hargreaves said.

“Most people aren’t ever hospitalized and don’t ever go to the doctor (because symptoms don’t usually present themselves),” he said. “There is no treatment, specifically, so avoiding a bite is your best option.”