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Why experts are worried about West Nile in Michigan this summer

Jul 5, 2016

In a normal year, Michigan sees about a couple dozen or so cases of West Nile virus: 18 cases last year, according to the CDC’s map. Just one in 2014. And 36 cases in 2013.

But the state saw some 200 cases in 2012.

And experts at the state health department are worried this year is shaping up to be another surge.  

For one thing, Oakland County just found West Nile virus in one of its testing pools, even though it’s still relatively early in the season.  

“This is a little early for us to be seeing the mosquito pools that are showing up some of the West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes,” says Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive. “So one of the things we think back on, is this seems to be, at least in terms of climate, a similar year to what we had in 2012, where we had a real bump or resurgence in cases from our usual.”

Wells says both years started out really dry and hot in May and June, without big rains that help wash out the stagnant pools where mosquitoes breed.

Still, so far, no human cases of West Nile have been reported.

Meanwhile, Wells says the state has 11 confirmed cases of Zika, all of which are travelers who got the disease abroad, according to Wells.

“All of those folks are doing fine, and none of them, thank goodness, were pregnant.”  

But the need to test for Zika is putting an additional strain on state resources, and so far there’s no additional federal money coming to help.

“This does take funding to do enhanced screening to look for the various types of mosquitoes … and as we do that, we have to sort of rob Peter to pay Paul. We’ve had to take West Nile virus funding to look for Zika mosquitoes, for instance,” Wells says.

At this point, no Zika-carrying mosquitoes have been found in Michigan – but while that sounds like good news, it actually means that the federal government isn’t directing Zika-preparedness money to the state, according to Wells.

“So it’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation, because we want to continue looking for that mosquito vector. You know, mosquitoes don’t follow state boundaries. And so that does require funding, but unfortunately because we don’t have that vector here already, it was not provided to the state of Michigan.”

Wells says at this point, Michigan is spending “several hundred thousand dollars” on Zika and West Nile virus preparedness and assessment, whether it’s enhanced lab testing or surveillance.