Recent reports from the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment have indicated an increased risk of West Nile virus this year.

According to Geary County health Department Director Tammy Von Busch, these reports are true.

“The rain this year has contributed significantly to the amount of standing water, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” she said.

Mosquitoes — specifically those from the genus Culex — are the vectors for the virus.

So far, no cases of the disease have cropped up in the Geary County area, but people should still be mindful of the risk. According to the KDHE, Geary County and the surrounding area are at high risk for the disease.

“In order to help reduce the number of mosquitoes, we need to reduce their breeding grounds, so we recommend that people dump bird baths, pet water bowls, old tires, anything that allows for water to stand every day or every other day and put in fresh water,” Von Busch said.

People should also use bug spray, consider wearing long sleeves and pants if they must be outdoors during peak mosquito times, and, if possible, avoid being outside when mosquito activity is high.

According to Von Busch, mosquito activity is highest at night, starting at dusk and lasting until dawn.

She said that most people who have contracted West Nile virus won’t develop any symptoms. Those who do may develop flulike symptoms. This could include a fever alongside other symptoms such as headaches, body aches and similar.

The illness can become serious in rare cases, according to Von Busch.

“About 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord),” she said.

With this can come high fevers, headaches, stiffness in the neck, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to Von Busch.

“Severe illness can occur in people of any age; however, people over 60 years of age are at greater risk,” she said. “People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants, are also at greater risk.”

According to Von Busch, about one in 10 people who contract West Nile and develop symptoms that affect their central nervous system die.

Those who become especially sick with West Nile and survive it have a longer road to recovery, according to Von Busch.

Full recovery can take weeks or even months.

“Some effects to the central nervous system might be permanent,” she said.

If a person believes they have contracted West Nile virus and have begun to show symptoms, Von Busch said they should contact their healthcare provider.

“There is no vaccine or specific treatment, so supportive care and hospitalization may be necessary in sever cases,” she said.

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