Weather Forecast


West Nile virus, Lyme disease can spoil summer fun

WORTHINGTON -- While there have not yet been any reported cases of West Nile virus in Minnesota this summer season, it's bound to be an issue as people get outside and enjoy the long days of summer.

The Minnesota Department of Health is anticipating a surge in mosquito activity because of the wet spring and increase in standing water.

"Everything that we've heard ... the potential for an increase in mosquito activity is more apt to be an issue," said Brad Meyer, director of Nobles-Rock Community Health Services.

Public health officials are encouraging people to eliminate any stagnant or standing water in their yards, including from tires, flower pots, barrels and other items.

"Anything that can hold stagnant water is a true breeding ground for mosquito larvae," Meyer said. "Mosquito larvae need uninterrupted water sources," therefore things such as often-used bird baths don't bode well for the larvae.

In addition to removing stagnant water from yards, Meyer said people should use a commercial mosquito repellent when they are outdoors. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are also the recommended attire when outside.

"People should avoid outdoor exposures in the early morning, around dawn," said Meyer. "That's a peak feeding time for mosquitoes."

West Nile virus produces encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. Meyer said 10 percent of all cases are fatal, with the elderly and small children the most susceptible.

"Some of the signs and symptoms are a sudden onset of fever, headaches, stiff necks and some people are nauseated or vomit," Meyer said. "Some of the more severe cases could be an altered mental status such as confusion, not able to complete sentences and slow reflexes. Some people will have seizure-like activity."

There is no cure for encephalitis, said Meyer, adding that physicians can treat the symptoms of the virus.

While southwest Minnesota may have its fair share of mosquitoes, it isn't among the most prevalent areas in the state for exposure to deer ticks carrying Lyme disease. Still, with summer travel plans that may take families to northern, central or eastern Minnesota, Meyer said people should protect themselves against the small, black ticks.

"Any wooded, brushy areas are susceptible to the deer tick," Meyer said. "Anybody going to the state parks, doing nature hiking through wooded areas, paths or trails, there's a possibility of them picking up the deer tick."

As with mosquitoes, Meyer said an insect repellent offers good protection against the deer ticks. The health department recommends a product that contains at least 30 percent DEET, or a product containing Permethrin. People should follow label directions, as Permethrin should not be sprayed directly on skin, but rather only on clothing.

People bitten by a deer tick carrying Lyme disease will likely notice a rash in the area of the bite that looks like a bull's-eye, with the bite mark being red and a red circle appearing around or through the rash.

"It's not like any other rash," said Meyer. "Other rashes will be painful or itch. This will not itch usually."

Those who think they may have been exposed to Lyme disease are encouraged to see their doctor as soon as possible. In addition to the rash, symptoms include fever, headache and chills.

"What they will notice with Lyme disease particularly is stiff joints -- their muscles and their joints ache," said Meyer.

Symptoms can be resolved with treatment, but Meyer said the key is to get diagnosed quickly.

"Depending on how long they've waited, the damage to the joints and muscles may be too severe that even with treatment they still may have painful joints and swelling for the rest of their life," Meyer said.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

(507) 376-7330