It wouldn’t be a Saskatchewan summer without talk of West Nile virus.
The flu-like illness is transmitted through the Culex tarsalis mosquito and can be a major problem each season.
But it is difficult to predict summer-to-summer whether the risk is increased.
“What are the mosquitoes doing, what is the temperature doing, all of those factors weigh into our assessment of the risk of transmission,” Dr. Denise Werker, Saskatchewan’s deputy chief medical health officer, explained.
Most people who become infected with West Nile virus don’t experience any symptoms or have only a mild illness.
But for more vulnerable patients, there is the risk of developing West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease, which can lead to brain inflammation and even death.
There has not been any cases of West Nile virus for a couple of years. Werker admitted that can lead many to be complacent, with many forgetting they are even at risk because the Culex tarsalis isn’t a nuisance mosquito.
“It is much more of a sneaky mosquito. It’s small, it doesn’t buzz and the bite isn’t nearly as irritating,” Werker said. “They are not as noticeable which is why we want people to take preventative measures.”
Those measures include covering up at dusk and dawn and wearing repellent.
The risk of West Nile virus may increase this year if the summer is hot and dry.
“This is very reminiscent of 2003 when we didn’t have many mosquitoes out there but the ones we did have were Culex tarsalis and many of them were infected,” Phil Curry, the province’s West Nile virus coordinator, explained.
Since West Nile virus was first detected in Saskatchewan in 2002, major outbreaks occurred in 2003 and 2007.
Between 2003 and 2016, there have 157 reported cases of the West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease. Seventeen resulted in death.