Residents should be wary of West Nile virus

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

Now that the warm weather is here, area health departments want the community to remember that mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus will also return.

WNV is a viral disease that appeared in the United States in 1999. Since then, more than 200 cases have been detected in humans.

Last year, cases were reported in Ohio from August 2002 until January 2003.

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August through October are the peak months.

Human cases were detected in 56 Ohio counties. More than 30 deaths in 15 counties were attributed to West Nile last year, said Sue Gunstream, environmental health director for the Lawrence County Health Department.

"The virus lived through the winter months. It is still there," she said. "Now is when you need to do prevention so the larvae does not multiply and spread."

At least three birds and one human case were confirmed in Lawrence County, Gunstream said.

"Our goal this year is to have none," she said. "That would tell us our education to the public is working to reduce the problem areas."

The virus can only be transmitted by mosquitoes and is commonly found in crows and blue jays, but has been detected in owls, quail, duck, morning doves and other species.

It cannot be transmitted by humans.

West Nile generally causes mild symptoms similar to those created by the flu, including headache, fever, and muscle aches. In some cases, people can develop deadly encephalitis, swelling of the brain,

or meningitis,

inflammation of the covering of the brain and the spinal cord.

Early prevention may be the most important. Mosquitoes need water to breed. Within one week, a mosquito will grow from egg to adult.

Anything that holds water, including ponds, weeds, alleys, drain ditches, bird baths, puddles and old tires, is a potential breeding ground.

"I would stress that as residents begin spring cleaning they need to get rid of buckets, tires and other standing water," she said. "Also, make sure your gutters drain properly and all bird baths are changed frequently."

According to the Ohio Department of Health, people over 50 are most at risk. There is no specific treatment or vaccine, but most people will not know they have been exposed and will fully recover.

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

Parents should consult their physicians before applying repellents to their children, she said.

Anyone who finds birds that have died within 48 hours, should not handle them without gloves and contact the health departments, Gunstream said.

The county health Department has information available at the office and will be printing fliers to be distributed into the community in a week or two.

For more information, call the Lawrence County Health Department at (740) 532-3962 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., or the Ironton City Health Department at 532-2172 or visit the Ohio Department of Health's Web site at