Mosquitoes are synonymous with Minnesota summers. And they're not a pleasant sight -- just ask Ken Speake of Maple Grove.
"I was just mowing the lawn, and I mowed right in here," Speake said, pointing to an area underneath trees in his back yard. "I pushed right in here to get that grass under there, and all of a sudden, just, 'whoosh' it was just a cloud of mosquitoes."
He says that afternoon yard work session resulted in a hundred mosquito bites.
"It was just all at once, you were just breathing mosquitoes," Speake recalled.
The incident occurred nine years ago, but it's what happened afterward that left him with a clear memory of that day.
"I just hurt everywhere," he said. "I got a headache, my skin hurt, my joints hurt, my muscles hurt, my head hurt."
Researchers eventually determined he contracted West Nile virus.
"It was me, a macho Minnesota male that was laid low by the thing," he says, exasperated.
State health officials say we should expect to see more West Nile cases before summer's end.
"Right now, we're seeing more cases than we've seen since 2007, so it will probably end up being one of our busier years for the virus unfortunately," said David Neitzel, an epidemiologist from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Neitzel blames the hot summer, which creates a greater West Nile risk.
"We're definitely in the peak season for West Nile Virus right now, and the mosquito who transmits that virus is active mainly at dusk and dawn, that's when they're out biting people," Neitzel said.
However, there are ways to protect yourself from mosquitoes carrying West Nile.
Neitzel recommends several varieties of insect repellents.
*Repellents that contain up to 30 percent of the chemical, DEET
*Repellents you spray on your skin such as oil of lemon eucalyptus, and those that contain picaridin
*There's also a clothing-only alternative that contains permethrin.
"Permethrin is a repellent that not only repels mosquitoes and ticks, but when they come into contact with treated clothing, it kills them," Neitzel said.
Ken Speake wasn't wearing insect repellent that summer day nine years ago. Now, he's vigilant in making sure others don't make the same mistake.
"If you're going to be in a situation where you're going to be exposed to the sun, you put on sunscreen. If you're gonna be exposed to mosquitoes you make sure to put on mosquito repellent," Speake said.
State health officials say the peak season for West Nile won't end until the first big frost kills off most of the mosquitoes. However, 80 percent of people bitten by West Nile-infected mosquitoes don't experience any symptoms.
August 14, 2012