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SIOUX CITY -- Get into the habit of applying DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and avoiding the outdoors during the early morning and evening hours when mosquitoes are most active. West Nile virus will soon be circulating once again in Northwest Iowa.

Siouxland District Health Department deputy director Tyler Brock said he expects mosquitoes infected with the virus to begin showing up in the health department's traps in July and the first human cases of West Nile virus to be reported soon after.

In 2018, eight cases of the virus were recorded in Woodbury County. West Nile virus season typically lasts from late summer into early fall.

"We'll get a handful of cases every year," Brock said. "People sometimes have some of the symptoms for a while before actually getting diagnosed, so we'll even get some cases in October."

Public health mosquito traps

Insects are shown in a trap at Green Valley Golf Course in Sioux City.

According to Brock, about 80 percent of people who get West Nile virus from the bite of a mosquito have no symptoms. He said the other roughly 20 percent will have relatively mild West Nile fever, which produces headache, stiff neck and fever.

"Less than 1 percent of the population can go on to have more serious neurological problems where there could be some altered senses, light sensitivity, confusion and even some paralysis of the face," he said. "Those cases do tend to be the ones that actually get reported, because a lot of the cases don't get diagnosed because people don't feel awful enough to go to the doctor."

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Both Brock and Ryan Smith, an assistant professor of entomology at Iowa State University, say it's too early to tell whether it will be a particularly bad year for West Nile virus in Siouxland due to earlier flooding and continued heavy rainfall.

"We've had a fair amount of flooding, especially in western Iowa along the Missouri River. These traditionally have been the places that have been hit the hardest by West Nile in the past, but it's kind of hard to say how that will directly influence disease transmission," Smith said. "Even though there's flooding right now, the majority of our West Nile cases are kind of getting into August and September, so depending on what those flood-like conditions look like for the rest of the summer, that may have some effect on the number of cases we might see."

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Public health mosquito traps

Ava Kluender, an environmental intern at Siouxland District Health Department, labels a paper cup that will be placed in a trap at Green Valley Golf Course in Sioux City.

A study conducted by Smith that was published in the journal Scientific Reports in April, revealed that West Nile virus transmission is most common in western Iowa, where the Culex tarsalis, the species of mosquito most often linked with West Nile virus transmission, is prevalent, especially in counties along the Missouri River.

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"This mosquito has been known for being especially good at transmitting West Nile. It tends to be infected a little bit easier than some other mosquitoes and tends to bite humans more," he said. "This mosquito tends to really want to be found in the western regions of the state and extends further into Nebraska and South Dakota, but we don't really find it in very high prevalence in central Iowa and the rest of the state."

Smith said the Culex tarsalis thrives in rural environments, laying eggs in irrigated farmland and drainage ditches. 

"Oftentimes, this mosquito isn't necessarily influenced by flooding as other mosquitoes might, but this mosquito seems to have a real penchant for that kind of more rural agricultural area," he said.

Public health mosquito traps

Ava Kluender, an environmental intern at Siouxland District Health Department, removes a mesh bag containing insects that were trapped at Green Valley Golf Course in Sioux City.

Brock said birdbaths, toys, tires and gutters are also prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry viruses. He said removing standing water around your home can effectively reduce mosquito numbers.

"There's multiple phases of mosquito. The kind we're dealing with right now are what we call the nuisance mosquitoes. They don't really carry disease, but they will bite. Later on, the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus will start to get to be more prevalent and they are ones that breed in just standing water," he said. "Really reducing those areas around your house can go a long ways in reducing those types of mosquitoes."

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