Officials step up awareness about West Nile

The province is stepping up its awareness campaign about ways to steer clear of the West Nile virus.

“Summer is all about enjoying the outdoors. Unfortunately, summer also brings exposure to mosquitoes,” said Dr. Gerry Predy, Alberta Health Services senior medical officer of health. “Because some mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, it is important to try to avoid being bitten at all.”

Whether gardening, golfing, fishing or even just relaxing outdoors, there are several tips Albertans should follow, including applying mosquito repellent with DEET, wearing long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and pants and wearing hats as well.

Folks should also consider staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, he said. Officials say there are 44 species of mosquitoes in Alberta and that of these, the Culex tarsalis has been identified as the species most likely to carry and transmit the virus from infected birds to people and horses.

The breeding season of the Culex tarsalis runs from mid-June to September. The risk of contracting West Nile virus increases during this period and peaks during August.

After being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus, humans can develop West Nile Non-Neurological Syndrome (formerly known as West Nile fever) and, occasionally, the more serious West Nile Neurological Syndrome.

Some people who become infected with non-neurological syndrome show no symptoms at all. However, symptoms that could occur can include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, a skin rash, swollen glands and headaches.

For the small number of individuals who do develop the neurological syndrome, infection can lead to tremors, drowsiness, confusion, swallowing problems, high fever, unconsciousness, paralysis and even death.

West Nile virus was first isolated in 1937 in the west Nile district of Uganda. Since then, there have been outbreaks in Egypt, Israel, South Africa, and in parts of Europe, Asia and North America.

Last year, 102 cases of West Nile virus were confirmed in Canada. Looking back, 2007 saw quite a high incidence rate across the prairies which did include some travel-related cases – 320 in Alberta, 1,456 in Saskatchewan and 587 in Manitoba.

Although no cases were reported in Alberta in 2011, Dr. Predy warns Albertans not to take the risk of West Nile virus lightly.

“West Nile virus infection can cause severe illness with debilitating, lifelong effects, particularly in older adults. I urge all Albertans to continue to fight the bite.”

For more information, visit or call Health Link Alberta toll-free at 1-866-408-5465 (LINK).