Starting Monday, June 1, authorities in North Dakota and private agencies will start surveillance for the mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

The surveillance activities involve testing and identifying sick domestic animals, particularly horses; trapping and testing mosquitoes; testing and reporting of dead birds; and tracking illnesses in humans.

Most people who get infected by the West Nile virus do not exhibit any symptom but those who have symptoms may suffer from headaches and fevers. The West Nile neuroinvasive disease, a dangerous form of the virus, however, can cause severe headaches, high fevers, stiff necks as well as alter mental states and could even be fatal.

Older adults particularly those who are at least 50 years old and those who have weak immune systems have increased odds of contracting neuroinvasive diseases.

Last year, eight people were hospitalized because of the virus and one of these died. Two moose, a horse and a cow also contracted the virus.

North Dakota Department of Health program manager Michelle Feist said that the months of July and August are the riskiest months for contracting the virus as this is the time when there are plenty of Culex tarsalis, the mosquito that transmits West Nile virus.

"In North Dakota, the greatest risk for West Nile virus transmission occurs during the months of July and August when the Culex tarsalis mosquito, the mosquito that transmits the disease, is more abundant," Feist said.

North Dakota is one of the states with high incidence of West Nile virus, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The population of mosquitoes gets a boost in North Dakota because of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. Mosquitoes responsible for transmitting the virus get infected when they feed on infected birds.

In Williston, members of the U.S Air Force Reserve will be helping to get rid of mosquitoes by flying planes that will spray a pesticide targeting the larvae of mosquitoes.

"We are training for a mission, which is to control mosquitoes for medical importance throughout the whole world, but we are integrated into ongoing pest control projects in the United States," said Lt. Col. Mark Breidenbaugh, who directs the two-week operation. "We are working in nine states right now."

Breidenbaugh added that residents should also take personal precautions given the high incidence of the virus in the state. Officials said that this pesticide does not pose harm to animals and humans.

Photo: Frankieleon | Flickr

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