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West Nile found in Grand Forks mosquitoes

Todd Hanson, manager for mosquito control at the Grand Forks Public Health Department, examines a vial of frozen mosquitoes that are used for training purposes in species identification and testing for West Nile Virus in Grand Forks. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The West Nile virus has been detected in mosquitoes in the Grand Forks area, officials announced Tuesday.

The Grand Forks Public Health Department regularly monitors for instances of West Nile virus, and the disease has been present in the area every year since 2002.

"We know West Nile virus is here and it's just a matter of time before we find it, so it's not surprising," Todd Hanson of the Health Department said. "The Dakotas probably have the highest cases of West Nile virus activity in the country."

Last year, North Dakota saw 62 reported cases of West Nile in humans and two deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hanson estimates that 80 percent of people who contract the virus do not have symptoms severe enough to visit a doctor. However, some can develop much more severe and potentially fatal symptoms such as fever or inflammation of the brain.

This year's unusually warm May weather could be especially conducive to the spread of West Nile virus, Hanson said.

"When we start seeing the real hot weather it is concerning to us," Hanson said. "Hot dry conditions are ideal for West Nile activity."

The mosquito that most commonly transmits West Nile virus is the Culex tarsalis, a variety of mosquito that is most active just before sundown and throughout the night. The public health department urges Grand Forks residents to limit their outdoor activities in the time between dusk and dawn, wear long sleeves and pants when possible and use repellent spray containing DEET.

It is also important for residents to ensure their property is not friendly toward mosquitos, said Hanson. Mosquitoes can breed in any container that holds water for a week or more. Hanson suggests residents drain sources of standing water around their homes such as bird baths, wading pools, flowerpots or old tires.