West Nile virus has gripped the state of Idaho this year. According to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, there are 568 confirmed or probable cases of the mosquito-born virus, more than in any other state in the country.
Ada and Canyon counties make up the majority of those cases. Seven Idaho resident deaths are attributed to the virus. A 13-year-old boy visiting from Massachusetts also died after getting both West Nile virus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
"We continue to see widespread infections across southern and eastern Idaho and urge people to 'fight the bite' of mosquitoes to protect themselves," said Dr. Leslie Tengelson, deputy state epidemiologist.
As of Tuesday, Blaine County reported six confirmed human cases of West Nile, one with neuroinvasive West Nile, four cases in horses and one found in a bird. The majority of the cases include fever, rash and high fatigue.
The neuroinvasive form of West Nile is much more severe and requires hospitalization. About one in 150 people infected with the virus will develop severe illness. The symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
Monie Smith, South Central District Health public information officer, said last year there was a spike in bird and horse cases in Idaho. That meant they knew this year would be bad for people.
"This is our year. That's the pattern we've seen across the country. It should decrease dramatically next year—we're hoping."
She added that there are many more cases that go unreported. She acknowledged that she had a mild form, but didn't report it because she knew the symptoms.
However, she said people over 50 who have symptoms should be checked.
"We do want them to be aware that they may have it and to do everything they can to take care. Get bed rest, drink fluids and ride it out. The better the immune system, the better a person will be. Outdoors, people should wear long sleeves and long pants, and mosquito repellent with DEET."