Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias States, including South Dakota, have done their best this year to combat the West Nile Virus.

Like generals in a war room, the Vermillion City Council began planning for mosquito-borne illness last April, when it was still too cool out for the insects to survive.

Vermillion and cities across the state have cleaned up areas that contain junk and tires that provide prime mosquito breeding grounds.

The city has utilized some weapons of mass destruction against the bugs in an effort to control the virus.

It has placed environmentally-friendly larvacide in places like the water hazards at The Bluffs golf course where mosquitoes lay their eggs.

And, they've called in some special forces. The golf course ponds, for example, were stocked with goldfish, which have been happily dining on mosquito larvae.

The city also put bat houses in key locations. Bats may be creepy critters, but they have a voracious appetite for bugs and every night they help thin the local mosquito population.

It's easy to get the perception that all of our efforts may be for naught.

If West Nile simmered in South Dakota last summer, this year, it seems to be at a full boil.

And, in fact, sometimes it seems we're bubbling over with the virus this year.

Three South Dakotans have died of the virus, including two people from Pennington County. West Nile took the life of a Wakonda man last Friday.

As of this writing, there have been eight confirmed human cases of the virus in Clay County.

The virus continues to circulate in South Dakota, according to the S.D. Department of Health as it reported 46 new human WNV disease cases Aug. 26.

Counties reporting their first human cases include Jackson, Miner and Tripp. This brings the number of human WNV cases in�South Dakota�to 256 this transmission season.

A sidenote to all of this: The last week in August and first two weeks in September are expected to be the highest risk periods for West Nile Virus.

Nationwide, there have been 1,442 cases of West Nile reported as of Aug. 27. Last year at this time, there were only 145 human cases reported in the United States.

There have been 21 deaths reported in 31 states, compared to eight deaths last year. As of last

week, West Nile was in 35 states and Washington.

So should South Dakotans, who all year have been told common sense, long sleeves and bug repellent should be enough to avoid West Nile, suddenly lock their doors and windows and not go outside until fall?

We say no. Keep doing what you're doing.

Ultimately U.S. experts hope to learn more about mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus as they study data gathered this summer.

In the meantime, South Dakotans should remember that while there are no guarantees, common sense will go a long way toward reducing the already-long odds of contracting West Nile virus.

"The risk of West Nile is low but we do encourage people to take appropriate

precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health.

He offered the following suggestions to reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile:

* Get rid of old tires and other containers where water can accumulate and serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

* Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

* Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in mosquito infested areas.

* Use mosquito repellents containing DEET, making sure to follow the directions on the container.

* Use bug lights and screen doors and windows.

Most people who get infected with West Nile Virus do not have symptoms. Some people develop a mild illness called West Nile Fever. This mild illness gets better on its own. A small number of people develop severe disease called West Nile meningitis or West Nile encephalitis.

This severe disease usually requires hospitalization.

In some cases, especially among older persons, it can result in death. Symptoms of severe illness include headache, high fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, tremors, convulsions, coma, and paralysis.

See your doctor if you have these symptoms.� There is no vaccine available to protect people from West Nile virus.

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