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VA law prevents utility shutoffs in extreme circumstances; MI construction industry responds to a high number of worker suicides; 500,000 still without power or water in the Houston area; KY experts: Children, and babies at higher risk for heat illness.

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The House passes the SAVE Act, but fails to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in inherent contempt of Congress, and a proposed federal budget could doom much-needed public services.

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Enticing remote workers to move is a new business strategy in rural America, Eastern Kentucky preservationists want to save the 20th century home of a trailblazing coal miner, and a rule change could help small meat and poultry growers and consumers.

25 years of West Nile: How virus' trends are playing out in 2024

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Thursday, June 6, 2024   

West Nile virus has had a presence in the United States for a quarter of a century. A mild winter and rainy spring sets the stage for more mosquitoes flying around North Dakota this summer, and health officials hope long-standing prevention tips still resonate.

West Nile was first detected along the East Coast in 1999. The mosquito-borne virus usually does not result in symptoms for infected humans, but serious cases still happen. North Dakota had 26 hospitalizations last year, with two fatalities.

Amanda Bakken, West Nile virus surveillance coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health, said the virus is still in boom-or-bust mode for infections, with North Dakota starting to trend upward again in 2023.

"We always want to make sure that the population is keeping an eye out for mosquitoes because those swings can happen quite rapidly," Bakken explained. "If we do start to have an increase in cases, we don't want that to affect large amounts of our population."

She acknowledged it is not exactly clear why peaks in human cases only happen around every five years. But there are factors, such as bird migration patterns because mosquitoes feed on them, setting off a chain of infections. To avoid mosquito bites, people are encouraged to buy bug spray containing DEET, make sure your home's window screens are not punctured and eliminate standing water around your property.

Federal health and environmental officials have looked at how climate change and West Nile overlap. Bakken pointed out one way is extended droughts, which have recently occurred in North Dakota.

"Those hotter and drier environments can really push mosquitoes and birds into concentrated areas for water sources," Bakken noted. "In those circumstances, we can start to see an increase in West Nile cases."

While most people infected are not symptomatic, Bakken emphasized you still want to avoid such situations or spreading it to vulnerable populations.

"There can be very long-term effects associated with a West Nile infection," Bakken observed. "Years to a decade of having lingering symptoms."

Some of the rare, serious symptoms include muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.


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