GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County says it has detected its first cases of West Nile virus in mosquitoes so far this year.
The county always keeps an eye out for mosquitoes carrying the illness. This time, the mosquitoes that tested positive for it were in the 49506 zip code; that includes the city of East Grand Rapids and part of southeast Grand Rapids.
“This discovery is important because it lets us know that this season’s mosquitoes are now carrying the virus and it could spread to humans,” Kent County Health Department epidemiologist Paul Bellamy said in a Thursday statement. “It is important for people to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites as much as possible.”
Michigan State University entomology Professor Ned Walker is an expert the Culex mosquitoes that spread the virus.
“The virus circulates between those mosquitoes and birds. The American robin, for example, we’ve discovered through research is an important host,” Walker said.
He said the Culex mosquitoes thrive using standing water to reproduce, even in cities.
“These are mosquitoes associated with stormwater drain basins that are located along streets, neglected swimming pools that accumulate organic material and allow the colonization by the mosquito eggs and the larval mosquitoes,” Walker explained.
While most people infected with West Nile virus don’t show any symptoms, about 20% have headaches or other aches or pain. About 1 in 150 people infected can develop a serious case, including encephalitis or meningitis that can lead to paralysis. Though it’s rare, West Nile virus can be fatal.
As of July 15, no humans in Michigan had contracted West Nile in 2021.
Last year, 32 people around the Lower Peninsula became sick from it, including News 8 reporter Barton Deiters. Barton’s case was severe, putting him in the hospital for months. It led to his death in April of this year. His was the only 2020 West Nile-related death in the state, officials say.
While there is no vaccine or cure for West Nile virus, health officials advise the following steps to protect yourself from getting it:
- Wear a mosquito repellent that contains 10% to 35% DEET.
- Stay indoors at dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
- Wear light-colored clothing, as well as long sleeves and pants.
- Remove standing water in your yard, which can be a mosquito breeding ground.
- Keep your grass and shrubs trimmed.
- Keep window and door screens in good repair.
—News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report.