DES MOINES — The potentially deadly West Nile virus is making an early appearance in Iowa this year, state Department of Public Health officials said Wednesday.
Although cases of West Nile virus are typically seen in early autumn in Iowa, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the department’s medical director, said three cases of the illness already have been reported in the state. Current surveillance data shows one case each in Clay, Monona, and Woodbury counties, Quinlisk noted. Health officials said the cases involved two adults between the ages of 18 and 40 years in Clay and Woodbury counties and one middle-aged adult between the ages of 41 and 60 years in Monona County.
Sentinel sites used by state public health officials also have collected mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus in central Iowa, she said. Given that the virus is transmitted via mosquito bites, the state agency was reminding Iowans on Wednesday to take precautionary measures to protect themselves against the insect bites.
About 20 percent of people infected with West Nile virus will have mild to moderate symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches and vomiting, Quinlisk said. Less than 1 percent of people infected become seriously ill and rarely someone dies, she noted.
Infections can develop into a life-threatening illness that includes inflammation of the brain. People who experience mild signs and symptoms of a West Nile virus infection generally recover on their own. But severe illness including a severe headache, disorientation or sudden weakness can develop requiring immediate medical attention.
Since West Nile first appeared in Iowa in 2002, it has been found in every county in Iowa — either in humans, horses, or birds. In 2013, there were 44 human cases of West Nile virus and zero deaths in Iowa.
Quinlisk also noted that there has been a lot of attention given this year to the Chikungunya virus, another mosquito-transmitted disease.
“No cases of Chikungunya have been reported in Iowa,” Quinlisk said. “However,” she added, “it’s important to remember that the best way to avoid Chikungunya, West Nile virus, or other mosquito-borne diseases is to protect and prevent — protect yourself against mosquito bites and prevent mosquitoes from breeding by getting rid of the places they lay eggs.”
For protection, Quinlisk advised to use insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. However, she cautioned to always read the repellent label and consult with a health care provider if you have questions when using these types of products for children. For example, DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months old and oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under 3 years old.
Other health agencies tips included avoiding outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active and wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, and socks whenever possible outdoors.
Prevention measures included eliminating standing water where mosquitoes lay eggs, emptying water from buckets, cans, pool covers and pet water dishes, and changing water in bird baths every three to four days.