St. Catharines residents had better be on the lookout for these little mosquitoes, for not all of them are as harmless as they seem. Over the summer, there has been an outbreak of West Nile Virus.
Brock University researchers first reported the impending West Nile outbreak, which was then picked up and carried by various high-profile news outlets such as the CBC and Toronto Star. Just as school was starting, PhD student Bryan Giordano, scientist and Brock professor Fiona Hunter, and Brock alumni Sukhdeep Kaur, released their paper which forecasted the worst West Nile outbreak in 15 years.
West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and can be a lethal disease. Most people, approximately eight out of 10, will not display any visible symptoms. About one in 15 people carrying the disease will show flu-like symptoms, but the biggest concern among those symptoms is usually a severe fever that comes along with West Nile. The worst-case scenario, and always the biggest fear among medical professionals when West Nile is diagnosed, is the onset of encephalitis or meningitis. These conditions affect the central nervous system causing inflammation in the brain or the membranes surrounding the brain, resulting in neurological effects that could become permanent.
In the week after the report was released, there were 37 diagnosed cases of West Nile in Ontario, and three West Nile-related deaths, the first three since 2012. There is no known vaccine or cure for the disease, but over-the-counter painkillers and hospital-administered intravenous fluids will hopefully be all the required treatment. While people may have thought that as school was starting and summer was winding down, there would be less risk of contracting the virus; this could not be further from the truth.
“I saw mosquito repellent being cleared out at a store recently, like the season is over. In fact, it’s quite the opposite,” said Hunter. “Now is the time people should be putting on their insect repellent. From a public health perspective, it is important to remind people to protect themselves from mosquito bites. There may not seem to be many mosquitoes out biting at this time of year, but this is when they are their most dangerous.”
This is because, although mosquito bites are more common at the beginning of the summer season, there are now more infected mosquitoes flying around, so the concentration of the disease is at a higher percentage.
Before the snow falls, you can protect yourself by Wearing clothes with long sleeves and pants that go down to your ankles when walking outdoors, especially when headed to wooded areas or on hikes. Insect repellent is always a good idea, but make sure to check that it contains diethyltoluamide, or DEET. Lastly, if you are set on that hike, try not to go around sunrise or sunset, as this is prime feeding time for mosquitoes.