West Nile virus found in mosquitoes at traps across Shawnee County

In this June file photo, Shawnee County health department employee Gary Larson checks a mosquito trap the department maintains at the Topeka Zoo. (June 2017 file photo/The Capital-Journal)

Mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus live in every corner of Shawnee County, according to a study currently underway through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the county health department.

 

Traps designed to catch mosquitoes at six different locations in the county have turned up mosquitoes carrying the virus, but it’s too early to know if any humans were exposed, Ed Kalas, Shawnee County Health Department environmental and community health manager, told the county commission Thursday.

“There’s definitely West Nile in our mosquito population,” he said.

Since June, the county has collected mosquitoes at the Topeka Zoo and the areas of Elmont, Silver Lake, Lake Sherwood, Wakarusa and Lake Shawnee. Those mosquitoes are sent to the University of Kansas through a KDHE contract, Kalas said. Thursday’s update comes at the midpoint of the mosquito season.

The Silver Lake trap has attracted more of the bloodsucking pest than other traps, likely because the environment there is ideal for them, he said.

West Nile virus cases in humans usually peak in August and September, said Ingrid Garrison, state public health veterinarian, but only 20 percent of those who contract the virus will exhibit symptoms. KDHE has monitored West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes since the early 2000s and considers it a statewide risk, she said. A weekly online risk report shows the risk of being bitten by a mosquito is “High” across the state.

The virus incubates for three to 15 days before symptoms — which include fever, muscle and joint ache, fatigue and rash — appear in those infected. About 1 percent of cases become neuroinvasive, attacking the brain. Often, those who have West Nile may not seek medical attention.

So far, no confirmed cases of West Nile have been found in Shawnee County residents this year, Kalas said. The first reported case of West Nile virus in Kansas was confirmed in June in Barton County. At that same time, two birds in Shawnee County also tested positive for West Nile virus.

“That just means the virus is here,” he said. “It’s not uncommon.”

The traps, which are also in Sedgwick and Reno counties, also help health officials learn about the risk of Zika virus, Garrison said. Though mosquitoes aren’t tested for the virus, that state monitors where and how many of two species that carry it appear in the traps.

“We’re not expecting to see transmission (of Zika),” she said. “We’re trying to learn more about their populations.”

Also at the meeting, the commission approved a series of contracts related to Applefest, now in its 38th year, at Old Prarie Town.

This year, Shawnee County Parks and Recreation combined the event with the Wheatstock music festival. It will span two days, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, instead of a single day. Along with vendors, re-enactors and other entertainment, the festival will feature 20 local musicians, said John Bell, recreation program supervisor.

Shawnee County Parks and Recreation decided to combine the events and expand Applefest to two days for a number of reasons, he said. A two-day festival is more attractive to vendors and will hopefully result in smaller, more comfortable crowd sizes on both days.

Contact reporter Luke Ranker at (785) 295-1270 or @lrankerNEWS on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/lukeranker.

PowerPlayer

PREVENT WEST NILE VIRUS

— Remove standing water. Mosquitoes can breed in as little as 2 tablespoons of water.

— Use mosquito larvicide in standing water that can’t be drained.

— Use mosquito repellent on exposed skin.

— Wear long sleeves.

— Keep screens on doors and windows.

 

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