The first human case of West Nile virus in the Niagara region has been confirmed after a paper from Brock University’s entomologist department was published. Suggesting that a West Nile outbreak was not only possible, but probable. The research article, which is available in PLOS ONE, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal, was written by graduate student Bryan Giordano with the help of Sukhdeep Kaur and supervised by Brock scientist Dr. Fiona Hunter.
Though this is the first human case to occur in the Niagara region this year, there are over sixteen cases in Ontario, the most recent to be confirmed being a man from Sudbury What is most particular about the Sudbury case, is that the man was in an area that has yet to find any mosquitoes carrying the virus. This is unlike the Niagara region which has already reported twelve different locations to be carrying the West Nile virus.
Additional reports of the West Nile virus being contracted by a human have been made in other provinces as well, including a Manitoban youth who had to be hospitalized experiencing neurological symptoms after possibly contracting the virus during the last week of July.
The Niagara health department has yet to confirm where the person who contracted the West Nile virus lives within the Niagara region, nor their name. However, through the study conducted by Giordano and Hunter, there appears to be a strong probability that an epidemic will likely happen, with an estimate of 340 people possibly being infected by the virus (in Ontario) this fall. If this number is correct, Ontario will likely experience an epidemic equal to the 2012 epidemic of similar numbers, only being outdone by the 2002 outbreak that had over 394 reported cases.
The research article attempts to describe geographical and seasonal trends in West Nile virus through the use of acquired records of West Nile virus human and mosquito surveillance from 2002 to 2013. This data comes from the province-wide surveillance program put in place after the West Nile virus first came to Ontario in 2001, the virus eventually spreading across the entire province and infecting humans. They have used climate data from seven different municipalities as well to help further investigate how temperature and precipitation might affect West Nile virus transmission dynamics. Through the use of this data, Giordano and Hunter are attempting to create an equation that can calculate the number of probable human cases of West Nile virus.
Additionally, the study notes that while there has been a lot of awareness raised for the West Nile Virus, and pesticide use to end it, it is still the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in Canada.
While many who contract West Nile virus often have no symptoms, up to 20 per cent of those will experience flu-like symptoms between 2-5 days after contracting West Nile, including fever, body aches, vomiting, or a rash on the chest or back. An even smaller percentage of people contracting West Nile will be subject to serious symptoms like numbness, sensitivity to light, and muscle weakness.
One per cent of those infected may develop brain infections, like Meningitis.
While there is no way to stay the possibility of a West Nile epidemic, the best way to protect yourself is through prevention. Make sure to empty any standing water that might be left on your property for longer than a week to avoid mosquitoes laying eggs there. Make sure to cover up when you’re outside, especially during the hours between dusk and dawn. Wear light colours and, if outside for long periods of time, consider additional protective clothing designed to keep bugs away.
`Bug repellants are another way of keeping the mosquitoes off, particularly ones that contain DEET. While natural repellant products like citronella candles repel mosquitoes, the repellant is comes from the smoke the candle emits so the person would have to be completely surrounded by the smoke to be fully protected from mosquitoes.
If you believe you may have already contracted the West Nile virus, contact your doctor or healthcare practitioner and your local public health unit (can be found at https://www.phdapps.health.gov.on.ca/PHULocator/). For more information on the West Nile virus, please visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/west-nile-virus.