Health officials: Reducing risk best tactic against West Nile Virus


BOZEMAN, Mont. - It is peak mosquito season and that has state health officials cautioning against West Nile Virus.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says the type of mosquito that most commonly carries the virus is most active over the next two months, which leads to 90 percent of human cases occurring in August and September.

One in five people who contract the virus will develop symptoms. In rare cases West Nile can be fatal. Two people died from West Nile in Montana in 2013, and 38 were sickened.

Mosquitoes that carry the virus breed and thrive in standing water and tall grasses.

People who catch West Nile can experience symptoms like headaches and a fever, and in extreme cases mental confusion and weakness.

Health officials say there's no vaccine, cure or treatment for the virus, so it is important to take steps to prevent being bitten in the first place.

Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley told NBC Montana, "It's one of those things where taking simple precautions is really the best thing people can do. It's not something to be panicked or extremely fearful about. It's just something like most health conditions that we can do some simple things to minimize exposure to the risk."

The virus can attack horses as well. We visited a ranch today and spoke to the owner about what they do to keep their horses healthy.

Rod Cline operates the Circle L Arena and Ranch between Bozeman and Belgrade. He's been raising horses for years next to a slow-moving section of Trout Creek.

Cline told us that part of the creek is a, "Perfect habitat for mosquitoes. So we got that right in our backyard."

The standing water and tall grass have led to more and more mosquitoes which could be carrying the West Nile virus.

"Nothing terrible," Cline said, "but we do have them, so that's something to be aware of."

Last year 32 Montana horses were infected with with West Nile.

Cline hasn't personally had to deal with his horses contracting it, but is well aware of the danger it presents.

"It's not a pretty sight when you see it," Cline explained. "Chances of losing them is pretty high."

If a horse does come down with West Nile, Cline tells us veterinary costs can run into the thousands. But unlike with humans, there is a vaccine to protect horses.

"If you're not vaccinating your horses you're just on borrowed time," said Cline.

Cline doesn't just rely on vaccinations. He takes steps like using automated drinking wells with floats covering them when not in use.

He went on to say, "We try to keep fly spray and stuff on them to help with that. We try to keep open water to a minimum."

Cline knows a ounce of prevention goes a long way in keeping them safe, saying it's, "A problem throughout the United States. And we're not immune from it in Montana."

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services lists the '5 Ds' to remember for lowering your risk of contracting West Nile:

DAWN and DUSK -- avoid being outside during those times. DRESS -- wear light-colored, tightly-woven clothes that cover your arms and legs. DRAIN -- drain or remove standing water on or near your property. DEET -- a chemical found in some insect repellents that adds extra protection from mosquitoes.