Mosquitoes may carry deadly viruses this spring

Maura Lerner
Star Tribune
Published Apr 27, 2002

With mosquito season just a few weeks off, Minnesotans should be alert for two mosquito-borne viruses that can infect people and horses, University of Minnesota health experts say.

They say people should take extra precautions to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and to reduce the risk of exposure to mosquitoes, which may carry viruses that cause West Nile fever and western equine and eastern equine encephalomyelitis. All can cause life-threatening infections in humans in rare cases, and are often fatal in horses.

So far, no human cases have been reported in Minnesota, but eastern equine encephalomyelitis was discovered in three horses last year. Health officials say the West Nile virus, which was first detected in New York in 1999, is likely to reach Minnesota this spring.

Most people don't get sick when bitten by an infected mosquito, but when they do, the viruses can cause such symptoms as fever, headache, body aches, neck stiffness, high fever, paralysis and tremors. By the end of 2001, 149 people in the United States had become ill from West Nile virus, and 18 died, according to federal health officials.

Although horses can be vaccinated, there is no human vaccine, said Dr. Jeff Bender, a university veterinarian and infectious disease specialist.

The advice from health officials: