It’s tempting to say that voters in Flathead County’s June primary election bit themselves on the butt when they voted down a levy to create a countywide mosquito control district. But Flathead County public health officer Joe Russell isn’t ready to go quite that far.
He says there’s no way of knowing whether the extra tax dollars and extra spraying to kill mosquito larvae that money would have paid for could have prevented Flathead County’s first case of West Nile Virus, which was confirmed on Aug. 9.
“What I do know is we could have controlled a lot more mosquitoes,” he says.
As of now, Flathead County hosts a patchwork of local mosquito control districts, but nothing that covers the entire county.
The 27-year-old Flathead County man who was infected with West Nile Virus was hospitalized briefly. No further information on his status has been made available.
Most people infected with West Nile Virus do not show symptoms. About 20 percent experience symptoms including fever, headache and fatigue. About 1 percent develop a severe neurological infection, which can be deadly.
Typically, Russell says, the severe cases of West Nile—the ones requiring hospitalization—affect the very young and the elderly, whose immune systems are less able to fend off the disease. Why a 27-year-old took ill with the disease in the Flathead, Russell can’t say.
According to Russell, this year’s case of West Nile makes Flathead County more likely to see the illness again next year.
To try and counter future outbreaks, and to keep mosquito numbers down in general, Russell says he will ask Flathead County commissioners to put the mosquito control district levy before voters again on Novem-ber’s ballot.
In June, the measure lost by nearly 600 votes. Russell hopes that the current case of West Nile will raise awareness about the importance of mosquito control. In the meantime, to reduce the risk of getting the disease, the Flathead City-County Health Department has advised people to keep their skin covered when outdoors, wear insect repellent, and avoid going out around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.