Archive for Friday, August 16, 2002

West Nile virus finds its way to county

Dead blue jay is first confirmed case

August 16, 2002


The mosquito-borne West Nile virus has landed in Douglas County.

A blue jay found dead this week in Douglas County tested positive for the disease that has killed seven people in Louisiana and sickened others in 36 states, health officials announced Thursday.

The discovery brings to 12 the number of Kansas counties with confirmed West Nile cases, found either in infected birds or horses. Infected birds also have been found in nearby Shawnee, Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

So far, no cases of human West Nile infection have been confirmed in the state.

Infected mosquitoes carry the virus and transmit it to birds, horses or people, but that doesn't mean every bite will make someone or something sick, said Kay Kent, administrator for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Most people who get infected with West Nile virus never know it. Some get flulike symptoms, such as headache, fever, body aches and swollen lymph glands. More severe infections can lead to encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which is marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma and seizures.

It's estimated that about one in 1,000 people who get infected will die. Those most at risk for severe disease are more than 50 years old and have weakened immune systems.

"Anytime you have a disease that could cause severe complications and death, of course we're concerned. But we need to keep it in perspective," Kent said. "The majority of people who are exposed don't develop symptoms, and in those that do develop symptoms, they are very mild."

The virus has been spreading across the United States since its confirmed arrival three years ago in New York. Kansas' first confirmed case came a week ago, with the death of an infected horse in Cowley County.

State and local health officials declined to identify where the infected blue jay was found in Douglas County. Such information is immaterial, they said, because of the high mobility of birds.

"Once West Nile has been identified in a given area, it's generally acknowledged in that area," said Mike Heideman, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Prevention remains the best defense against contracting the disease, said Kim Ens, communicable diseases coordinator for the health department. People should limit their exposure to mosquitoes by:

Wearing long sleeves and long pants, particularly at dusk and at night when mosquitoes are most active.

Using insect repellent that contains DEET.

Getting rid of stagnant, standing water at home, such as in wading pools, bird baths or discarded tires. Such pools can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

City and county officials have no immediate plans to spray pesticides in area fields or neighborhoods to kill mosquitoes.

That's because the dangers of spraying chemicals around people can be more dangerous than a bite from an infected mosquito, said Craig Weinaug, county administrator.

"This is not something that's going to go away," Weinaug said. "As I understand it, this is going to be with us from now on. You don't eradicate mosquitoes. You can't go out and kill all the birds. People just need to learn to take reasonable precautions."

State officials will continue encouraging people who find dead birds to contact the state's toll-free West Nile hot line, (866) 452-7810, for possible testing, Heideman said. People should not call local law enforcement agencies.

Either way, he said, people should wear gloves when handling dead birds.

"There's really no evidence of West Nile virus being transmitted from birds to humans, but it's just good sanitation," Heideman said.

Officials at Kansas State University have been screening for the disease since May, testing animals across the state.

Of the more than 400 tests conducted so far on horses, five have turned up positive, said Dr. Sanjay Kapil, a professor of veterinary virology at Kansas State. Tests on Douglas County horses thus far have come up clean.

"Most of the horses remain normal, but we do see some (that are infected) with weakness in the legs, head pressing and nose twitch," he said. "In general, they will be showing nervous signs."

Vaccinations are available for horses. People with questions or wishing to order a West Nile test for a horse may contact Kansas State's veterinary diagnostic lab at (785) 532-5650.

West Nile virus: questions and answersA few facts about the West Nile virus, provided by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment:Q: What is West Nile virus infection?A: It is an infection caused by West Nile virus, which is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. In people, the disease usually causes only a mild illness, but it may cause encephalitis (swelling of the brain), meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain) or even death in rare cases. The virus is named after the West Nile region of Uganda, where it was first identified.Q: Who gets West Nile virus?A: Anyone can be infected with the virus if bitten by an infected mosquito. More severe infections are seen in the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.Q: How is West Nile virus spread?A: The virus is spread only by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes become infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. The virus is not spread from person to person or directly from birds to humans. The virus is not spread by person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing, or caring for someone who is infected.Q: Can you get West Nile virus from other insects or ticks?A: Infected mosquitoes are the primary source of the virus and source of recent outbreaks in the United States. There is no evidence that other insects or ticks transmit the virus.Q: What are symptoms of a West Nile virus infection?A: Most people infected with the virus do not become ill. People with a mild infection may suffer from fever, headache, eye pain, muscle aches, joint pain, a rash on the trunk and swollen lymph nodes. In severe cases symptoms include extreme muscle weakness, inflammation of the brain, paralysis and coma. In rare cases the infection may be fatal.Q: How soon do symptoms occur after being bitten by a mosquito infected with the West Nile virus?A: Symptoms usually occur in three to 15 days. Being bitten by an infected mosquito will not necessarily make you sick. Most people who are infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms or have only mild illness.Q: Should I be tested for West Nile virus infection after being bitten by a mosquito?A: No. Most mosquitoes are not infected with the virus. The virus infections generally occur during warm-weather months when mosquitoes are active. However, even in areas where the virus occurs, only a small proportion of the mosquitoes are likely to be infected.Q: What is the treatment for West Nile virus infection?A: There is no specific treatment. A physician may prescribe medications to relieve the symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required.Q: Is there a vaccine against West Nile virus?A: Not for people, but there is one available for horses.Q: Can I get West Nile virus from birds?A: There is no evidence that West Nile virus can be spread directly from an infected bird to humans. However, dead birds can carry other diseases and should not be handled with bare hands.Q: How can I report a sighting of dead birds in my area?A: Kansas has a toll-free hot line for reporting dead birds: (866) 452-7810.Q: How can I get a bird tested for West Nile virus?A: The hot line number includes detailed instructions about which birds will be tested in Kansas and how to arrange pickup of dead birds for testing. Not every dead bird reported or even picked up will be tested.Q: What can be done to prevent an infection?A: Preventing mosquito bites will prevent West Nile virus infection. Personal protection and reducing mosquito populations will minimize the chance of developing the virus infection when it is present in an area.Personal protective measures to reduce or prevent mosquito bites include:Limiting time spent outdoors at nightfall and dawn when mosquitoes are activeWearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants when outdoorsUsing insect repellents containing DEET when outdoors. Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully.Screening your home to prevent mosquito entry.

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