Archive for Friday, June 27, 2003

West Nile virus makes return to state official

Health Department says situation is no cause for panic

June 27, 2003

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— It's back.

Heath officials have confirmed the presence of West Nile virus in mosquitoes from Crawford County.

"We expected to see West Nile virus in the state again this year, so this is no surprise, nor is it a reason to panic," Dr. Gail Hansen, the state public health veterinarian, said Thursday. "We're looking harder and earlier than we did last year."

Kansas began capturing birds and mosquitoes on May 20 and testing them for West Nile virus. The Crawford County sample was taken May 28, and 16 sites are being sampled statewide.

Last year, West Nile was first confirmed in July, Hansen said.

Unlike the mosquitoes that carry West Nile on the East Coast and prefer to bite birds, Hansen said the Midwest mosquitoes will bite bird, horse or human.

Hansen said so far, no cases have been confirmed in birds, horses or humans, but she was bracing for a busy summer.

"I'm preparing for having a worse season than last year, as least in terms of human cases," Hansen said. "I usually don't like to be wrong in my predictions, but that is one that I wouldn't mind missing."

West Nile virus first arrived in Kansas last year, with 22 human cases and 794 cases found in horses and mules. More than 300 birds were tested.

Animal health officials have been encouraging owners to vaccinate horses, something that can be done with a regular battery of shots.

"Last year, West Nile snuck up on the Midwest," said state Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden. "We thought it would be fairly low, and there was a high number of incidents.

"We didn't push the vaccines until it was too late."

Teagarden said horse owners were encouraged to get two shots for their animals as a precaution to build up immunity to the disease and because of the large number of cases last year.

Symptoms of West Nile in humans are usually mild and include fever, headache, body aches and occasionally skin rashes. Severe cases include neck stiffness, encephalitis, high fever, muscle weakness and paralysis.

"Most people who become infected will never know they were infected, because the disease usually produces no symptoms of health complications in humans," Hansen said.

People over the age of 50 are most susceptible to serious illness from West Nile, Watson said.

Efforts to control the spread of West Nile, Hansen said, include reducing the habitat for mosquitoes, such as stagnant water; use of insect repellent that contains the active ingredient DEET ; and limiting outdoor activities during dawn or dusk.

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