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A new virus

One of the downsides of an extremely wet June is the delay many farmers have had getting into their wheat fields. Another is the appearance of mosquitoes. Lots of them.

If you haven't been swatting at your neck or arms for the past two weeks, either you're prepared enough to cover yourself with a strong repellent -- or you're simply avoiding the great outdoors. Whether you've seen them or not, they are there.

"This year, we got a lot of rain," said Christopher Rogers, an ecologist with the Kansas Biological Survey at the University of Kansas. "We're going to have a lot of mosquitoes."

It is too early for health officials to say whether the abundance of mosquitoes will result in more people getting infected with viruses the pests can carry. But the Kansas Department of Health and Environment does know there is at least one more mosquito-borne virus in the mix this year.

In addition to the West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis and La Crosse encephalitis viruses KDHE already looks for, this year Kansans are being warned about chikungunya virus. The new virus established itself first on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten in December and is making its way around the globe. Recently, KDHE identified this state's first two cases -- both from Sedgwick County, although each were exposed in the Caribbean.

Thus far there are no reports of local transmission in the state, but Kansas ecologists said the two mosquito species that commonly carry chikungunya are present.

Fatalities are rare with chikungunya infections, but fever, muscle pain, joint pain, swelling and rashes can be painful.

As the new virus is carried by an old foe, the same rules apply. Health officials advise:

* Dress in clothing that covers your skin, especially at dawn and dusk.

* Drain standing water -- where mosquitoes breed and lay eggs -- in places such as pots, gutters, tires, wheelbarrows and wagons. Change the water in children's pools, pet dishes and bird baths several times a week.

* Use insect repellent that contains DEET.

Don't look for the mosquito swarms to disappear too quickly as there is more rain in the forecast. Just use commonsense safety precautions.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net