Under Surveillance: West Nile Virus In Canada

Cartoon mosquito
Image courtesy of www.shutterstock.com

So… here we are  *twirls around, arms outstretched expansively*

We’ve had a redesign. What do you think? Like it?

Since my diagnosis my mind has been in a whirl trying to translate the news, and my subsequent research, into some kind of easily graspable, coherent idea I can keep untangled in my own head and be able to clearly communicate to someone else.  Not an easy task.

So while my brain’s been percolating I gave my entire site a make-over. After all the soul-searching I’ve done recently moving forward with a new focus somehow warranted a ‘fresh page’.

To get me back in the swing of things (yes I know, it’s been a while… again) I thought I’d share another recent discovery – one blessedly unrelated to neurological issues.



This summer marks four years since we left the UK and we’ve grown comfortable in Canada. No longer ‘wide-eyed tourists’ we move from day to day with unthinking familiarity, routine having replaced wonder quite a while ago. Periodically, I’ll pause and think about this, reminding myself to hold onto that curiosity and awe (especially on a day like today when I was fined for ‘parking within three metres of a fire hydrant. I guess I’m not as familiar as I think.)

Anyway, I sometimes ponder all the little remarkables of our new life that now slip by unnoticed – missed opportunities to discover something new – until something sparks a question and an internet search gives me reason to see my present home in an exotic light again.

Like the other week…

We were walking back from school, shrill voices competing to share the days events, when a guy on a motor scooter whizzed down the street and back up the other side, stopping intermittently to spray something into the storm drains. Buzzing between catch basins like a bee among flowers, he’d spritz, drop a pellet in, then spray-paint a bright green dot on the grille to mark the anointment. As he passed I saw a label on the side of his scooter – it read, rather ominously, ‘West Nile Virus’.

Too curious for my own good, I came home and turned to Google for answers.



Found in temperate, tropical climates around the world West Nile Virus wasn’t considered high-risk to humans until a series of outbreaks in the 1990’s put it on the map. In 2012 it killed 286 people in the US. It’s been found in Ontario since 2001 and is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Most infections are subclinical, meaning they show no signs or symptoms, but it can cause a worryingly mixed array of maladies: fever, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain or aches, malaise, nausea, anorexia, vomiting and rashes. A small number of cases develop into neurological illnesses like encephalitis and meningitis. Not only is it difficult to spot, there’s currently no vaccine.

‘Prevention is better than cure’ so the saying goes, and as I scoured webpage after webpage I discovered the ongoing West Nile Virus surveillance program in our patch of Ontario. Confirmed human cases fluctuate yearly and 15 West Nile virus positive adult mosquito pools have been identified in the region.

I also learned a new word…

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water and have a 3-stage life cycle: egg, larva and pupa. The scooter-sprayer we saw was ‘larviciding’ – using an insecticide that works as a growth regulator to control mosquitoes at the larval stage before they mature into adults and disperse. The chemical doesn’t kill adult insects and is non-toxic to humans. Unlike many West Nile Virus programs in the US, larvicide is not sprayed into the air or onto surrounding land.



There’ll be three treatments throughout the summer and three different colours of paint used to mark the treated areas: green, as we saw for the first treatment, orange in mid-July and finally blue in mid-August.

In addition, there’s the usual advice to minimize breeding sites by draining standing water from things like ceramic pots, tires, bird baths and planters. Pools and rain barrels should be chlorinated or covered and drainage ditches kept clear.

Four years in a country and I still don’t know the half of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’…


By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. I’d never heard of that virus before so thanks for the info, also love the design and hearing about your life in Canada, it is so easy to miss things isn’t it. x

  2. Aww one of my friends moved out to Canada a few years ago and loves it! I will ask him if he’s seen these guys on the scooters too! ps. having lived in the UK all my life, I still don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes! lol x

  3. Eww shudders, i am in the UK, but terribly allergic to mosquito bites. I hate the little bitey things, so I am careful here about standing water, however a nice wildlife pond encourages dragonflies, their ugly little babies chomp on mozzy larvae and can clear a pond in days, so some standing water can be useful. This would freak me out totally. Like you I google too much.

    1. Google – it’s an itch I can’t stop scratching 😉 bit like a mozzie bite…
      Interesting about the dragonflies, we have a lot of them here so that’s another reason to love those startling, iridescent beauties.

  4. I’ve not heard of that virus before. Mosquitoes are never good news though, are they? Your new design looks great! I’ve just re-designed mine too.

    1. You’re right, mosquitoes are like wasps, it’s very hard to find anything positive to say about them. Heading over to yours now to have a look around – love that ‘new blog’ smell!

  5. You would have thought these mozzies would stay in Africa with a name like that. Looks like they have the situation until control though

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