On September 14, a wife, mother, and grandmother named Mary Ann Quisenberry passed away in Oakland County, Michigan. The monster behind her death? West Nile Virus.
Quisenberry was Michigan’s first West Nile Virus-related death this year, and the first in over a decade. There have been three confirmed cases of the virus this year. While the numbers have dropped from previous years (2002 saw 644 cases of West Nile Virus state-wide with 51 related deaths), there are still concerns, especially for senior citizens and those who have immune system suppression, as they run the greatest risk of developing complications.
There is no vaccine to prevent West Nile Virus, nor are there any medications to treat the infection.
According to Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, out of the 90 types of mosquitoes, only one species can transmit West Nile Virus. It cannot be transmitted by person-to-person contact. She states that case occurrences spike during dry summers, and that only a handful more cases are expected.
“Mosquitoes die off when the temperatures begin dipping to 30 and 20 degrees at night,” Minicuci stated.
George Miller, director of the Oakland County Department of Health, stated that he could not release the area in which Quisenberry lived.
“I don’t want to give anybody a false sense that it’s only in one area, because we have no idea where she traveled to and where she might have been bit. Right now, all we’re concerned about is the fact that it’s just another sign… that it’s alive and well in our community, unfortunately, and so we need to take the necessary precautions to do as much as we can to prevent it.”
Sadly, Michigan is not the only state struggling with West Nile Virus infections.
Officials in northern California have reported a death of a senior citizen from Butte County who began showing symptoms in late August. The deceased was confirmed positive for West Nile Virus earlier this month.
Mississippi has received confirmation of the 28th West Nile Virus case this year. The new case is located in Hinds County.
Elkhart County, Indiana, released a statement regarding the West Nile Virus, as they have received word that mosquitoes collected earlier this month have tested positive for West Nile Virus. Indiana has had 12 confirmed human cases of West Nile virus this year, with two fatalities. As Minicuci stated in the Michigan case, cases can be expected until after the first freeze, when mosquitoes start dying out. The statement from Elkhart County officials is as follows.
“The Elkhart County Health Department has been notified by the Indiana State Department of Health that adult mosquitoes collected September 2 and 9, 2015 have tested positive for the West Nile Virus. Those mosquitoes were from samples collected in the Elkhart and New Paris areas. However, this is an indicator that the disease is present in Elkhart County and precautions should be taken. Moreover, the Indiana State Department of health is reporting that the State of Indiana has had 12 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus disease, with two fatalities. Additional cases are expected until the season effectively ends with the first hard freeze.”
“Thus, it is important that the Elkhart County residents continue to be vigilant to protect themselves from mosquitoes. Even with the cooler temperatures we have experienced in the last couple weeks, the potential still exists for individuals to be impacted by the West Nile Virus. Cooler weather tends to force mosquitoes to seek shelter and it is not uncommon for those mosquitoes to be found in our homes, businesses, barns and outbuildings. These mosquitoes will continue to look for blood meals and have the potential to transmit the disease to humans. Mosquitoes will remain active at temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and tend to be more active in the evening hours. The common precautions of avoiding mosquitoes when possible, utilizing repellents in the areas of mosquito activity and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants in those areas are advisable.”
“Remember to check your property for mosquito breeding activities. Empty containers that are holding water, unclog gutters, dispose of old tires and maintain screens in doorways and windows.”
“West Nile Virus transmission tends to be higher in the early Fall. This in part is due to the factors previously mentioned and amplification of the disease in the various wildlife reservoirs. It is not uncommon for people to become infected even when mosquito activity seems to be nonexistent. Precautions taken now may prevent serious illness in rare cases needless loss of life.”
If you live anywhere that mosquitoes can breed, you need to educate yourself and your loved ones on proper prevention tips. Here are the most helpful tips to avoid infection from the West Nile Virus, from the CDC.
Avoid Mosquito Bites
- Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection. To optimize safety and effectiveness, repellents should be used according to the label instructions.
- When weather permits, wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors. Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spraying clothes with repellent containing permethrin or another EPA-registered repellent will give extra protection. Don’t apply repellents containing permethrin directly to skin. Do not spray repellent on the skin under your clothing.
- Take extra care during peak mosquito biting hours. Take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing from dusk to dawn or consider avoiding outdoor activities during these times.
Mosquito-Proof Your Home
- Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside. Use your air conditioning, if you have it.
- Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and bird baths on a regular basis.
Help Your Community West Nile Virus Surveillance and Control Programs
- Support your local community mosquito control programs. Mosquito control activities are most often handled at the local level, such as through county or city government. The type of mosquito control methods used by a program depends on the time of year, the type of mosquitoes to be controlled, and the habitat structure. Methods can include elimination of mosquito larval habitats, application of insecticides to kill mosquito larvae, or spraying insecticides from trucks or aircraft to kill adult mosquitoes. Your local mosquito control program can provide information about the type of products being used in your area. Check with your local health department for more information. Contact information may be found in the blue (government) pages of the phone book.
Report dead birds to local authorities. Dead birds may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and the mosquitoes in an area. By reporting dead birds to state and local health departments, you can play an important role in monitoring West Nile virus. State and local agencies have different policies for collecting and testing birds, so check with your state health department to find information about reporting dead birds in your area.
If you are unsure about the precautions surrounding insect repellents, please check out the Insect Repellent Use & Safety page on the CDC’s website. You can also contact your local health department for resources regarding the West Nile Virus.
[Photos by BSIP/Getty Images; CBS; The Clarion-Ledger; CDC]
*WNV human disease cases or presumptive viremic blood donors. Presumptive viremic blood donors have a positive screening test which has not necessarily been confirmed.
†WNV veterinary disease cases, or infections in mosquitoes, birds, or sentinel animals.
Data table: WNV infections in mosquitoes, birds, sentinel animals, or veterinary animals have been reported to CDC ArboNET from the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
West Nile virus infections in humans have been reported to CDC ArboNET from the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.