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West Nile virus tracking underway

The Department of Health is monitoring for West Nile virus through mosquito testing and collecting reports of certain types of dead birds.

The virus is now well-established in some areas of the state. West Nile virus typically becomes active in the spring and summer during mosquito season when the insects feed on infected birds.

Mosquitoes that tested positive for the virus were found in six counties last year (Benton, Franklin, Grant, Skagit, Yakima and Spokane). The virus has been common in Central and South Central Washington during the past several years.

Studies show the weather, irrigation and vegetation in those areas, especially in and around orchards, are a favorable environment for the types of mosquitoes and birds that carry the virus.

While there haven’t been many cases of Washington residents infected with West Nile virus over the last few years, the virus can cause a serious illness for some people, even death in rare instances. Most people bitten by an infected mosquito won’t have symptoms. Some may develop mild symptoms, such as fever or headaches that go away without treatment. People with weakened immune systems and those over the age of 50 are more likely to develop serious illnesses.

The virus is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Avoiding mosquito bites and removing items that can become mosquito habitat are the best defenses against West Nile virus. Emptying stagnant water in flower pots, old tires, buckets, gutters and other water-collecting items can make it harder for mosquito larvae to grow into biting adults.

Staying indoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active can also help people avoid mosquito bites. Wearing long sleeves and long pants outdoors during these times is also good protection, along with using an effective mosquito repellent.

Birds in the crow family are also susceptible to West Nile virus and can provide an early warning of virus activity.

The Department of Health asks people to report dead birds using its online dead bird reporting system. Crows, ravens, jays, magpies and hawks are particularly important to report because they often die from West Nile virus infection. More information is available at 1-866-78-VIRUS (1-866-788-4787).

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