MARQUETTE - While cases of West Nile virus have cropped up around the country this summer, the Upper Peninsula has remained untouched, with no reported cases, officials said.
This is the worst West Nile season since the virus first cropped up in 1999, and there have been 1,590 cases of West Nile virus recorded in people, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control release from Aug. 28.
The vast majority of those reported cases have come from Texas, where more than 700 cases have turned up. As of Aug. 28, Michigan ranked sixth among states, with 71 cases. None of those, however, were in the U.P. In fact, none were north of Muskegon County.
Mosquito tech Spencer Lockwood sorts mosquitos at the Dallas County mosquito lab in Dallas on Aug. 16. The last time Dallas used aerial spraying to curb the mosquito population, Texas' Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, Mission Control in Houston was launching Gemini missions and encephalitis was blamed for more than a dozen deaths. But for the first time in more than 45 years, the city and county resumed dropping insecticide from the air to combat the nation's worst outbreak of West Nile virus, which has killed about a dozen people and caused at least 200 others to fall ill. (AP photo)
Dead mosquitos are lined up waiting to be sorted at the Dallas County mosquito lab. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Teresa Frankovich, the medical director for four district health departments in the U.P., said there could be a number of factors contributing to the fact that there have been no U.P. cases.
"There could be many explanations," she said, noting that there really aren't many cases in the state, as a whole. "The other thing is that it's entirely possible that we don't have as high of a carriage rate in our mosquito population, but we don't know that."
According to the CDC, West Nile is transmitted primarily throught the bite of a mosquito that has become infected after feeding on an infected bird. In very rare cases, it has spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding and from mother to child during pregnancy.
West Nile virus is not spread through casual contact.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and, in extreme cases, stupor, disorientation, tremors, vision loss, paralysis and coma.
Many, however, will never know they have been exposed to the virus and Frankovich, who serves as the medical director for the Marquette county Health Department, said it is impossible to measure the true spread of West Nile, as most people exposed to the virus experience mild symptoms, or none at all.
"One thing that kind of gets lost in the discussion is that the vast majority of people who get infected with this virus do not even know they are ill," she said.
Roughly 80 percent of people infected with West nile show no symptoms, according to the CDC. And only 1 in 150 develop sever illness. Those most at risk for experiencing major health complications after being exposed are the typical risk groups the elderly, the very young and those with immune disorders.
Frankovich said the disease is more prevalent in the state this year than it has been since the first Michigan case was reported in 2002. And while 71 reported cases doesn't seem like a big deal in a state with a population near 10 million, Frankovich said it is important for the medical community to inform the public about a virus that is, in the end, preventable.
"I think that it is important to take note of because there are easy prevention measures and we know a small number of people can get seriously ill," she said.
Frankovich suggests people do their best to avoid mosquitoes and mosquito bites. She said people should use insect repellent and wear pants and long sleeves when they are in areas with a lot of bugs. People should also avoid having standing water on their properties and can stay inside during dusk and dawn, when bugs are more likely to be out.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.