BISMARCK — The North Dakota Department of Health is cautioning residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites, as the state experiences an uptick in cases of West Nile virus.

As of Wednesday, Aug. 25, the state reported five confirmed human cases of the mosquito-borne virus, the health department said in a news release. Of those, four were hospitalized and three were classified as neuroinvasive cases.

Neuroinvasive instances of the disease are those resulting in meningitis, encephalitis, or acute flaccid paralysis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Less than 1% of people infected develop neuroinvasive disease, per the CDC. Most with West Nile virus will have symptoms that are not serious or no symptoms at all.

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State health department epidemiologist Amanda Bakken said it's hard to say whether those three neuroinvasive cases are a sign of a serious problem in the state.

She said with COVID-19 being such a concern, some West Nile cases might be overlooked.

"It's possible that it's not being tested for as much as it needs to be," said Bakken, explaining that it could lead to cases being underreported.

Of the five confirmed cases, there were two in Cass County and one each in Mercer, Sargent and Stutsman counties. This is the first time since 2018 that Cass County has had a case.

Four cases were in men, and one was in a woman. Four of the cases were in people 60 or older; one was a person in their 50s. None has resulted in fatalities, Bakken said.

In addition, North Dakota has six possible West Nile virus cases pending further results. Of those, two are hospitalized.

While most people infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms, those who do may have fever, headache, body/joint aches or rash. Those who develop severe illness may experience a stiff neck, altered mental status, paralysis, coma and possibly death. People over age 60 and those who have underlying health issues are at increased risk for neuroinvasive disease.

Bakken said August is the peak period for West Nile virus activity because the mosquito vector species Culex tarsalis is more prevalent this time of year.

Even though mosquito counts have been lower than usual due to the ongoing drought, Bakken said dry conditions don't necessarily affect that particular species as much.

Here are some precautions recommended by state health department:

  • Use insect repellents that contain ingredients such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD, 2-undecanone and permethrin (clothing only). Always follow directions on the manufacturer’s label.
  • Wear protective clothing outdoors such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks.
  • Limit outdoor activities between dusk and dawn.
  • Get rid of stagnant water where mosquitoes can lay eggs, including gutters, old tires and wading pools.