Bite this, West Nile

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A few weeks ago, the only dim spot on an otherwise spectacular trip through Olympic National Park was the bugs—specifically, a horde of aggressive mosquitoes that apparently considered our DEET a tasty appetizer. Swatting and swearing, eventually all five of us gave up and huddled in a three-person tent until the sun set and the bloodsuckers finally relented.

Still, coulda’ been worse: We were itchy, but alive. Lucky for us—and hikers all over the country who have also suffered the temporary insanity brought by biting skeeters—cases of West Nile Virus are on track to hit a seven-year low. USA Today reported that only 368 people have come down with a severe case of the encephalitis-like disease this year (less than a third of last year’s count) and 18 have died. That’s a far cry from 2002 and ’03, when WNV killed more than 260 people.

Since most WNV cases are reported in August and September, it looks like we’re in the clear for 2008—though the Centers for Disease Control aren’t quite sure why. Experts theorize it could have something to do with weather patterns that didn’t get mosquitoes in the mood for breeding.

Low-mojo mosquitoes equal fewer cases of WNV, huh? We ranked mosquitoes #8 in our October issue’s Terror Index (a measure of nature’s deadliest threats), but perhaps we overestimated. Heat, snakes, this is your big chance …

-Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

U.S. cases of West Nile Virus fall (USA Today)