A top state health official says Iowans should brace themselves for a West Nile virus season ahead that will be as severe as last year, if not worse. Dr. Russell Currier is the state’s public health veterinarian and an environmental epidemiologist. Last year, Iowa reported 147 human cases — six that resulted in death. Dr. Currier says we can expect a repeat, although he says it’s hard to predict what West Nile will do since it’s dependent on weather, rainfall and temperature, but he says “We’ll have at least as many cases as we had last year.” Currier says most of the cases the state sees will be in western Iowa because a certain type of virus-carrying mosquito likes to congregate and breed there — in drier areas where irrigation runoff collects. Spring’s here, and so are some mosquitoes already, but Currier says they’re not usually the ones that transmit the virus to people. He says it’ll be another month before the virus-carrying mosquitoes start appearing in Iowa and the initial risk will just be to birds. The human risk, he says, starts in mid-June and will run through the rest of the season. In some ways, Currier says Iowa dodged a big West Nile bullet the past two seasons.In 2002, Illinois saw a huge outbreak while Iowa’s numbers were modest. In 2003, major epidemics cropped up in Nebraska and South Dakota. Nebraska had 29 deaths and South Dakota had 14. Of course, it’s not just people and birds that’re effected by West Nile. Horses are especially vulnerable and state ag officials are urging annual equine vaccinations.
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