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Developing A Warning System For Virus

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It’s not something we really think about this time of year as temperatures begin to dip well below freezing, but the West Nile Virus is a threat that is studied year-round.

Over the past few years, it has been impacting South Dakota more than ever before; but what is it that makes one year more dangerous than the next? Dr. Mike Wimberly, senior scientist and professor at South Dakota State University, is working to find an answer to that question.

“If you have an early spring, that gives us a longer amount of time for that amplification to occur. Mosquitoes and birds become active and the virus amplifies in the mosquito and bird populations, and it needs to build up to a high enough level where it can spill over into the human population and create a risk in transmission to humans,” says Wimberly.

That’s just a piece of the puzzle that made this year so much worse than many other years.

Despite this year’s extreme lack of rainfall, it didn’t make quite as much of an impact as you would think.

“The vector mosquito, the culex tarsalis, doesn’t need an enormous amount of rainfall; so there just was just enough to maintain the mosquito population and the virus was able to take advantage of the warmer temperatures,” says Wimberly.

Using satellite remote sensing, Wimberly and his team of scientists are able to gather this data and make a projection on how bad next year’s season may be.

“Is this going to be another 2012, or is this going to be more like 2011? We want to also be able to highlight the areas that are going to be at highest risk,” says Wimberly.  

In addition to these observations, Wimberly will take into account how and when humans are most at risk.

“The idea is if we can really target the populations that are really at the highest risk at specific times, then the targeted messages can be more effective,” says Wimberly.  

Hopefully, this will create a warning system that we can abide by in order to protect our families in years to come.

Dr. Wimberly says this is a system that may be used sometime in the next couple of years. However, data will continue to be collected each year in order to make each year’s projections even more accurate.
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