FRASER — After almost eight full months, West Nile virus has made its way back into Macomb County.
The Macomb County Health Department detected the virus in a sample of mosquitoes in the city of Fraser — the first positive sample detected in 2014 in Macomb County.
Once samples are detected as positive, they are sent out to statewide labs for research and confirmation.
The county’s health department does its best to keep citizens abreast of the possibilities of something like West Nile virus being a reality in the region, especially during summer and fall months. The virus becomes more rampant and poses a greater risk to the public during that time period.
Dr. Kevin Lokar, a medical director within the Macomb County Health Department, said that it’s not a surprise to find such results in Fraser or the county as a whole. He said he believed other areas in the state, like Saginaw and Osceola County, also detected positive mosquito samples.
The virus is harmful not only because of its possibly fatal effects, but also because symptoms are not all that obvious.
“It’s a virus that causes inflammation of the brain and the surrounding tissue of the brain, but 80 percent of the people have no symptoms at all,” Lokar said. “Some have mild illness like headache and not feeling well. (The virus is) transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. This time of year is when we expect seeing cases in humans, so we have general recommendations to avoid mosquitoes as much as possible.”
Protecting yourself from West Nile virus is akin to common forms of protection from “regular” mosquitoes. The precautions that should be taken, according to the county’s health department, include: avoiding being outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active; wearing light-colored and long-sleeved shirts with long pants and socks; using insect repellants (such as those that contain DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus); and making sure screens are tightly placed over house windows and doors.
Lokar wants people to understand that not all mosquitoes carry the virus, but nobody can ever be too careful. The issue that arises coincides with the symptoms; more specifically, nobody would know they had the virus by the symptoms alone unless they were obviously severe. Distinguishing a run-of-the-mill cold or flu between West Nile virus is a difficult task.
Symptoms include severe headaches, fever, fatigue, weakness and rashes.
However, younger people will generally fare better because, as Lokar said, the risk of severe disease is more prevalent in the older age groups, notably those over 50 years old. Older people could possibly develop serious neurological diseases such as meningitis and encephalitis if infected.
“Older people are generally more susceptible to any disease,” he said. “They often have other medical issues that place them at risk, (and their) immune systems don’t work.”
More information on West Nile virus can be found at the Macomb County Health Department’s website at www.macombgov.org/publichealth.