Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Protecting Against West Nile Virus

daugaardheaderProtecting Against West Nile Virus
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

DaugaardIt used to be mosquitoes weren’t much cause for concern. We considered them a nuisance, but otherwise mostly harmless. It wasn’t until 13 years ago when West Nile Virus emerged in South Dakota that the nuisance became a formidable health concern.

Just weeks ago, at the end of June, the South Dakota Department of Health reported the state’s first West Nile case of the year in Brown County. Though there has only been one human case reported thus far, mosquito pools in two counties have tested positive for the virus. History tells us the peak transmission for West Nile in South Dakota is in August – so we can expect to see more cases.

There is no vaccine or specific anti-viral treatment for people who become infected with West Nile. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, rash and stomach sickness. Less than one percent of those who contract the illness develop serious neurological infections which can be fatal. Still, of 2,168 human cases reported in South Dakota since 2002, 677 individuals have been hospitalized and 32 people have died.

From the first detections of West Nile in South Dakota the state has worked closely with local mosquito control programs, offering educational opportunities and funding support. Over the years the state has provided cities, counties and tribes with more than $6 million in either direct funding or control chemicals. Just a week ago the Department awarded $490,000 in grants to 180 programs across the state to help control mosquitoes and reduce the threat of West Nile.

There are a number of ways to protect yourself from contracting the virus. Use mosquito repellent. Wear long sleeves and pants outside. Limit your time outdoors from dusk to midnight when mosquitoes are most active. Get rid of any standing water in your yard. And support local mosquito control efforts.

Those who are over 50, pregnant women, transplant patients, and individuals with diabetes, high blood pressure, or a history of alcohol abuse should take extra precautions because they may be at greater risk of developing severe symptoms.

The spread of West Nile isn’t inevitable. Let’s do what we can this summer to protect ourselves and others from this harmful virus.