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The provincial government is warning of a growing risk for contracting West Nile virus this holiday weekend.

The number of mosquitoes found in Saskatchewan that typically carry the virus is increasing and the risk for infecting people has spiked.

"We know that the long weekend — a lot of people will be out and about and we are just urging them to take proper precautions from getting bitten by mosquitoes," said Phil Curry, West Nile Virus Coordinator for the Ministry of Health.

The province says the risk of contracting the virus is highest in the south from Regina down. That area also includes a patch in the northwest up to Battleford.

Worst time of year for West Nile 

Late July and early August is historically the prime risk period.  This time of year is when the Culex tarsalis species of mosquito, which is found in Saskatchewan, reaches its peak in population numbers. 

Health officials say the Culex tarsalis species is becoming "increasingly capable of infecting people."

"This mosquito has been delayed in its development by the late spring cool temperatures and wet conditions, however it has the capability of responding very quickly," said Curry.

The recent hot, humid weather, especially with warm night-time temperatures, has created ideal conditions for mosquitoes and their transmission of the West Nile virus through biting. The Saskatoon area, including north to Meadow Lake and southeast to Yorkton has a low risk for contracting the virus. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile have not been detected in the Prince Albert area and the rest of the north. However, that does not mean the risk is non-existent.

"There is still a lot of time left to see this mosquito pick up the virus and infect people," said Curry.

Cover up, wear repellents, spend less time outside 

People are advised to protect themselves by covering up, wearing repellents or spending less time outdoors. Manitoba has reported two cases of West Nile this year.

The province of Saskatchewan says while it is still testing mosquitoes, it has not detected a case of the virus in the province yet.

The province's Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Denise Werker says most people who get West Nile virus will have mild symptoms, including a fever and headache, or none at all.

She says less than one percent of the population will be infected with a severe case of the virus.

Symptoms of a severe case include a persistent high fever, headache, showing signs of confusion, paralysis and weakness.

"The symptoms are very similar to other infectious diseases so it's part of a larger differential diagnosis where you need to rule out other infections as well," explained Werker. Ultimately, the province warns, if a person can be bitten by a mosquito, he or she can contract the virus.