Be vigilant: West Nile Virus detected in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties

·2 min read

Health officials in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties are urging residents to take precautions against the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses.

A pool of mosquitoes has been identified in each county carrying West Nile Virus. So far, there are seven additional counties in Indiana and four counties in Michigan ― none in the southwestern portion of the state ― where the virus has been detected in the mosquito population.

In St. Joseph County, the mosquitoes with the virus were located in northeastern Mishawaka. Carrie Brunson, an environmental health supervisor for the Elkhart County Health Department, didn’t identify the location of the pool, but indicated that a positive test at one location likely means mosquitoes throughout the county could be carrying the virus.

Brett Davis, St. Joseph County Health Department's assistant director of environmental health, searches for mosquito larvae in a wetlands area near the north end of Division Street on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Mishawaka. Davis runs the county's program to monitor tick and mosquito populations.
Brett Davis, St. Joseph County Health Department's assistant director of environmental health, searches for mosquito larvae in a wetlands area near the north end of Division Street on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, in Mishawaka. Davis runs the county's program to monitor tick and mosquito populations.

There are no vaccines to prevent or medications to treat West Nile Virus in people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 20% of those infected develop a fever and other symptoms, and about one out of 150 develop a serious and sometimes fatal illness, according to the CDC.

Brunson and Brett Davis, assistant director of environmental health in St. Joseph County, said the mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus are typically found in more urban areas and breed in bird baths, pet bowls, flowerpots, gutters, rain barrels, old tires, and untrimmed grass and shrubs.

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The mosquitoes that carry the even more dangerous Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus are typically found in bogs, marshes and more rural areas, according to the health officials. Testing already is underway for that virus, but so far, it hasn’t been detected in either Indiana or Michigan.

Though there are vaccines to protect horses from the EEE virus, there are no are no medicines to protect or treat humans. The CDC says that approximately 30% of people with EEE die and many survivors have ongoing neurological problems.

The last significant outbreak of the virus occurred in 2019.

Health experts suggest scrubbing and replacing water in bird baths at least once a week to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES
Health experts suggest scrubbing and replacing water in bird baths at least once a week to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Tribune Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES

That year, 10 people in Michigan ― including two in Berrien and two in Cass counties ―were infected with the virus and six people died. In Elkhart County, one person died that year.

Until the first hard frost tamps down the mosquito population, Brunson and Davis urged residents to protect themselves by being especially careful from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

They also suggest applying an EPA-registered insect repellant ― containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-methane-diol ― to clothes and exposed skin and consider wearing a hat, long sleeves and long pants where mosquitoes are especially active.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: West Nile Virus found in St. Joseph and Elkhart County mosquitoes