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West Nile virus found in St. Louis mosquitoes

Mosquitoes with the West Nile virus have been found in St. Louis County for the first time this sumemer
(via Flickr/John Tann)
Mosquitoes with the West Nile virus have been found in St. Louis County for the first time this summer.

Health officials have detected the West Nile virus in mosquitoes found in St. Louis County.

The West Nile virus can potentially be deadly, but cases in humans are relatively rare. No Missouri residents have contracted the disease so far, this year, according to federal health data.

St. Louis County health officials say people can minimize the risk by eliminating opportunities for mosquitoes to breed and lay eggs.

“Positive mosquito tests are a reminder that preventative measures are important,” Faisal Khan, St. Louis County Health director, said in a news release. “Even though serious West Nile virus cases in humans are rare, it is important to minimize our exposure.”

West Nile can cause severe neurological problems, but most people don’t show any symptoms. Approximately one in 150 people who catch the virus develop symptoms such as encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, and meningitis, which is swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. There is a 10 percent fatality rate for those who contract those serious neurological symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While birds are the primary carrier of West Nile, the virus is mostly spread to humans through mosquito bites. According to the CDC, 16 people in Missouri caught West Nile last year, and one of those patients died. That same year, 84 people in Illinois caught the virus, and it caused five fatalities.

This year, West Nile virus has been found in animals in the surrounding states of Iowa and Illinois, and has only been detected in humans in Oklahoma.

St. Louis County workers routinely check mosquitoes for the virus during the summer to focus their pest control efforts. Health officials recommend eliminating standing water, repairing tears in screens and cracks in windows and wearing DEET bug spray to help control the risk of disease.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.