DETROIT (AP) – People celebrating Labor Day weekend outdoors in Michigan could be setting themselves up as the main course for feasting mosquitoes, including the species known to carry the West Nile virus.
The disease has become the summer scourge nationwide, and the state where on Thursday an 87-year-old Kent County woman became its fifth fatality.
State health officials are working with local governments to educate residents on how to best avoid the disease after an unusually warm spring encouraged the early hatching of mosquitoes that transmit the virus.
In all of 2011, Michigan recorded 34 human cases of West Nile virus and two deaths.
At least 80 cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed in Michigan so far this year, resulting in at least 62 hospitalizations.
And things could get worse.
“It seems we have had ideal weather conditions for the growth of the mosquito that carries this particular virus,” said Mark Valacak, Genesee County health officer. “That’s why we’re warning people to take precautions. Late August and September is when we see the highest population of these mosquitoes.”
The problem has put some communities like Warren, north of Detroit, on the offensive.
For the second year in a row, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has implemented a mosquito prevention and eradication program aimed at controlling the spread of the West Nile virus and other illnesses.
Engineering, public works, property maintenance, recreation and sanitation departments in Warren are identifying and treating areas where stagnant and standing water can harbor mosquito larvae. Residents can be fined up to $1,000 if problem areas are not eliminated.
“The number one thing – whether you are in your home or out camping – is that if there is a stagnant pool of water, flush it out,” said Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Community Health.
Repellants containing ingredients like DEET should be used while outdoors. People also should avoid being outside at dusk and dawn – prime mosquito feeding times, she added.
However, these pesky critters make it their mission to also venture inside homes where they feed on sleeping victims.
“Make sure screens are in good repair and don’t prop doors open,” Minicuci said. “This is the species that will try to get into your home.”
Less than 1 percent of people who contract the virus actually get really sick, but complications from the disease can be debilitating, especially for the elderly, very young and people with weakened immune systems.
“It has the signs and symptoms of a viral infection,” Valacak said. “The danger is this can sometimes result in meningitis or an inflammation of the spinal column and brain. Be very careful if you have severe headache, pain in the back of the neck and fever.”
Heavy rains that flush out pools of standing water may provide some relief, but little is expected over the next few days.
Vestiges of a weakened Hurricane Isaac could bring only a 10th-of-an-inch of rain beginning Sunday night to southern parts of Michigan, according to Rachel Kulik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oakland County’s White Lake Township.
In Wayne County and the Detroit area temperatures are expected in the low 90s Friday and low 80s on Saturday and Sunday, the type of weather where the adult mosquitoes apparently flourish.
“When low temperatures reach 50 degrees mosquito populations will begin to decline,” Minicuci said.
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