State health leaders eye West Nile

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2001

The Ohio Department of Health and other state agencies are keeping a watchful eye out for the West Nile virus.

Monday, March 26, 2001

The Ohio Department of Health and other state agencies are keeping a watchful eye out for the West Nile virus.

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The Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the USDA APHIS Veterinary and Wildlife Services are working together to monitor the spread of the virus in the state.

Jay Carey, a spokesman for the ODH said birds, especially crows, are the carrier of the virus. Female mosquitoes transfer the disease to humans after they bite an infected bird then bite a human. Carey said the ODH is keeping watch over dead birds found in the state. He said a statewide surveillance program is working to keep track of the disease. Literature published by the department said decreasing bird populations could be the first sign of West Nile Virus in an area.

The literature distributed by the ODH said the young and old are susceptible to become ill from the virus.

According to ODH information, people cannot get West Nile virus directly from another person who has the disease. West Nile virus is not spread by person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing, or caring for someone who is infected.

The disease first emerged in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937, infecting an adult female. The virus is now found in Africa, Europe, Middle East, Western and Central Asia, Oceania and in 1999 the virus was found in North America.

So far, West Nile has not been found in Ohio but last year the virus was located in Erie County, Pa., a county that borders Ohio.

The virus has spread quickly in the U.S., since the initial outbreak in New York in 1999. In two years, the disease has spread across the Eastern Seaboard and along the Appalachian mountain range.

The ODH information said being bitten by an infected mosquito will not necessarily make an individual sick since most people who are infected with West Nile virus either have no symptoms or experience mild illness. If illness were to occur, it would occur within 5 to 15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. Mild infections are common and include fever, headache, and body aches, often with skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, occasional convulsions, and paralysis mark more severe infections.

In some individuals, especially the elderly, West Nile virus can cause serious disease that affects brain tissue. At its most serious, it can cause permanent brain damage and can be fatal. There have been 62 cases of illness reported in the U.S. including seven deaths from the disease. In 2000, there were 17 cases reported and one death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., the West Nile Virus recently emerged in the temperate regions of Europe and North America. The disease threatens humans, horses, birds and household pets. In a severe outbreak the disease results in encephalitis (brain inflammation).

To reduce the chance of area residents coming into contact with the virus and slowing the spread of the disease, Carey said people need to make an effort to reduce standing water outside of their homes and neighborhoods.

"People need to rid their area of manmade water containers such as tin cans, buckets, even certain sandbox lid covers because standing water is the breeding ground for mosquitoes," he said. "People often don’t realize the number of mosquitoes that is born in roof gutters that are clogged."

Carey added, "West Nile is one of the easiest controlled viruses" if people reduce the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

In that regard, Carey said the state is making a concerted effort to educate the public about the disease because "in all likelihood, the virus will be in Ohio this year."