Editorial: Keep the risk of West Nile in perspective

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 30, 2002

It was only a matter of time. The West Nile Virus has been found in two horses in Freeborn County.

While some are concerned about the mosquito-carried virus spreading to humans, it’s important to remember the relatively low risk of getting sick from West Nile. Public health officials say the risk of getting the virus to start with is quite low; and even among those who contract it, only a tiny fraction will get sick from it.

To put the risk in perspective, you are still hundreds of times more likely to become seriously ill from the flu or pneumonia. Heart disease, Parkinson’s and cancer kill hundreds every year in Minnesota; in contrast, nationwide, only 24 people have died from West Nile Virus this year. In Minnesota alone in 1999, 402 people died from falling down, 67 drowned and 47 died of burns. Among serious health threats, West Nile is barely a blip on the radar screen. It’s entirely possible that not a single Minnesotan will die of the virus this year.

Email newsletter signup

That all means that people need not panic. But at the same time, it doesn’t hurt to protect against even a long-shot risk. Especially for senior citizens, young children or people with chronic illnesses, it makes sense to do a few extra things to protect against mosquito bites, which can transfer the virus to people. Using a good mosquito repellant can provide protection and peace of mind. Getting rid of standing water in your yard can take away mosquito breeding areas. Wearing dark clothing, with long sleeves or long pants if possible, can help fend off mosquitoes as well.

For those with horses, the best idea is to vaccinate them. For only a few dollars, they can be protected against the disease, which has a much higher mortality rate for the animals than it does for humans.

With a little foresight, a few efforts and a good dose of perspective, Freeborn County residents can go a long way toward minimizing any risk and, perhaps more importantly,

putting their minds at ease.