Archive for Saturday, August 9, 2003

West Nile strikes county

Virus found in dead crow, KDHE says

August 9, 2003


West Nile virus has been confirmed for the second straight year in Douglas County, state health officials said Friday.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said a dead crow found July 28 was infected with the mosquito-borne virus. The department did not say where in the county the bird was found.

"The fact it was found anywhere in the county is a concern for everyone in the county," said Sharon Watson, KDHE spokeswoman.

The department's weekly West Nile report showed the number of Kansas counties with confirmed cases skyrocketed to 43 this week from 25 last week. Counties added to the list were Barton, Decatur, Douglas, Graham, Grant, Harvey, Haskell, Jackson, Leavenworth, Mitchell, Ness, Norton, Osborne, Phillips, Pottawatomie, Scott, Sedgwick and Washington.

At this time last year, Watson said, only 13 counties had reported cases of the virus. Douglas County's 2002 case -- found in a dead blue jay -- was confirmed in mid-August.

"We are definitely seeing it a lot sooner in a lot more counties this year," she said.

That trend is consistent with nationwide numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Already this year, 41 states have confirmed cases of the disease, compared with 30 at this time last year. Human cases this year total 182 in 17 states -- including one in Kansas -- and five deaths nationwide. At this point in 2002, there were 112 human cases.

Earlier this week, federal health officials said the virus was spreading more rapidly than they had expected. They expect this year's national tally to break last year's record.

Watson said trends in states that have had the disease longer, like New York, showed West Nile infections peaked in the second year of outbreak, then began to taper off.

Mosquitoes in only one Kansas county, Crawford, have tested positive for West Nile. Infected birds have been detected in 35 counties and infected horses in 12.

Watson said even if cases had not been confirmed in their area, Kansans should be prepared for it, because tests have probably not yet uncovered all cases of the disease in the state.

"We would expect that West Nile virus is throughout Kansas now," she said. "It's best to assume that it is and take precautions to avoid mosquitoes."

The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to be seriously affected by the disease and most likely to need special measures to prevent infection.

Nationally, officials report seven people -- all of them elderly -- have died from the virus. Four of the deaths were reported in Colorado, the hardest-hit state.

KDHE recommends minimizing contact with mosquitoes as the best way to avoid infection. Suggestions to avoid biting insects include using insect repellent containing DEET, remaining indoors during dusk and dawn, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants outdoors whenever practical, eliminating stagnant pools of water and repairing screens or other places where mosquitoes can enter a home.

Most people who are infected with the virus won't get sick. The CDC says about a fifth of those will develop a fever, headache, body aches and sometimes a rash and swollen lymph glands.

West Nile symptomsWest Nile virus primarily affects birds, horses and mules. Kansas reported 22 human cases of the disease last year -- none resulting in death. One human case has been reported this year in Gray County.Most healthy people will not have complications if infected with the virus, but symptoms may include:¢ fever¢ headache, body aches¢ swollen lymph glands¢ skin rash on trunkSigns of a severe infection -- West Nile encephalitis or meningitis -- could include the above plus neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors or muscle weakness.For more information, call the Kansas Department of Health and Environment at (877) 427-7317.Testing hot lineTo report dead birds to be tested for West Nile virus, call (866) 452-7810. The criteria for testing are:¢ Only crows, blue jays, magpies or birds of prey such as owls, hawks and eagles will be tested.¢ Birds must have been dead less than 24 hours.¢ Birds should be intact and stored in double plastic bags in a freezer until they are submitted.

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