First traces of West Nile virus detected in MI for 2017

A Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito is seen on the skin of a human host in this 2014 picture from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile virus is spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes that have acquired the virus by feeding on infected birds.

Health experts confirmed Friday the discovery of three birds that tested positive for West Nile virus in MI - the earliest detection of the virus in the past decade.

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There had been two reported West Nile cases and three cases of St. Louis Encephalitis, a similar mosquito-borne illness, in 2016.

People are being warned to take steps to prevent mosquito bites, which can transmit the virus. The individual, a male over the age of 50, has the more serious neuroinvasive form of the illness.

Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.

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The mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus may breed near people's homes in storm drains, shallow ditches, retention ponds, and unused pools. They will readily come inside to bite if windows and door screens are not covered.

The three West Nile-positive birds this year were found sick or dead early in May and were tested this week at Michigan State University, Eisner said. And MDHHS says that as temperatures rise, mosquitoes and the virus develop more quickly. Birds are the natural animal reservoir for the virus and carry it in their blood.

"Mosquito bites and the diseases spread by infected mosquitoes are preventable", said Dr. Joe Iser, Chief Health Officer for the Health District.

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Most birds show no symptoms of infection, but certain bird species, such as crows, blue jays and ravens, are more sensitive to the virus and are more likely to become sick and die when they become infected with the virus. "We ask residents to contact us if they find sick or dead crows, blackbirds, owls or hawks, or any other bird exhibiting signs of illness".

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