• 48°

West Nile virus found in area

Four birds testing positive for the West Nile Virus have been found in Gallia, Scioto and Jackson counties while tests are pending on two birds found in Lawrence County.

The birds were sent to Columbus to be tested by the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The results should be back sometime next week, said Sue Gunstream, environmental health director for the Lawrence County Health Department.

"We have confirmed cases all around Lawrence County," said Gunstream,

"It is very important to let people know the precautions they can take."

West Nile Virus is a viral disease that appeared in the United States in 1999. Since then, 139 cases have been found in humans. The disease is spread by infected mosquitoes and causes encephalitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord.

According to information provided by the Ohio Department of Health, people over 50 are most at risk. There is no specific treatment and, in most cases, people will not know they have been exposed and will fully recover.

The virus most commonly found in crows and blue jays.

To deter mosquitoes, it is important to get rid of any standing water and to use some type of repellent when outside, Gunstream said.

"The key things with West Nile are protection for you and to eliminate all possibilities where mosquitoes can harbor," Gunstream said.

Gunstream encourages anyone who finds dead birds or large pools of stagnant water to contact the health department. In order for a bird to be tested it must have been dead for less than 48 hours.

The virus is a risk factor from now until early fall and anyone with symptoms or using repellent should contact their family physician, Gunstream said.

As of July 26, 329 birds in 68 counties have tested positive for the virus. Ninety-four pools of mosquitoes tested positive in 15 counties. A pool consists of one to 50 mosquitoes, said Robert Restifo, medical entomologist for the Ohio Department of Health.

"We are trying to emphasize awareness, not panic," Robert Restifo said. "Personal protection is a major component of any mosquito control."

"At this point in time, West Nile is not a major threat," he added. "This year has been so dry that the chance of transmission is small, but we do expect to see a human case this year."

It is impossible to be infected by birds or humans with the virus and no horse or human cases have been found in Ohio, Restifo said.

For more information, call the Lawrence County Health Department at 532-3962 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Michael Caldwell/The Ironton Tribune