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Mosquito season prompts West Nile testing in Madison

MADISON (WKOW) — With a cooler start to spring, Madison is getting a late start to its mosquito season, but as temperatures heat up, experts say the pests are multiplying, bringing with them the risk for dangerous diseases.

That’s why UW-Madison entomology professor, Susan Paskewitz and her lab are gearing up to see how dangerous this year will be. Starting next week they’ll be out in wooded areas across Dane County to catch the areas first few hundred mosquitoes.

“We pull out the ones involved in West Nile transmission and then we do the testing,” she said.

It’s a partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, to determine the prevalence of the disease across the state.

According to DHS Epidemiologist Rebecca Osborn, that’s because in the 20 years since West Nile came to Wisconsin, human cases of West Nile have become inevitable. She said it’s hard to predict where those cases may show up, but she said every year Dane County sees at least one case.

In most cases, infected people are asymptomatic or exhibit flu-like symptoms, but in severe cases Osborn said there can be serious risks.

“It can cause things like swelling of the brain and spinal cord,” she said. “It can even cause comas and in rare cases, death.”

Osborn said severe cases are most common in those with weakened immune systems but appear in less than 1 percent of cases.

Every year Wisconsin sees an average of 19 human cases, but Osborn said last year was particularly bad with 33 cases.

According to Paskewitz, it’s difficult to say whether that pattern will continue into 2019.

“Last year, that really wet year seemed to have an effect,” she said. “Prior to that where we’ve really seen a lot of that has been the opposite, hot and dry years.”

That’s why in preparation for the season, Osborn is advising people to start using bug spray or wearing long sleeves to prevent bites, rather than waiting to see how bad things get.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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