Local health departments preparing for West Nile Virus season

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 27, 2003

As mosquito season approaches, the Ohio Department of Health has notified local health departments that it is once again accepting dead birds to test for the West Nile Virus.

Sue Gunstream, environmental health director for the Lawrence County Health Department said the office has already received a few calls from residents who have found dead birds.

Anyone who finds a dead crow or blue jay that is not decayed and most likely died less than 48 hours before it was found can submit it to be tested, she said.

Email newsletter signup

Everyone should wear gloves and place dead birds in doubled plastic bags. It should then be placed on ice and brought to either the Lawrence County or Ironton health department, she said.

Once two positive cases are confirmed, the state will stop testing birds from a particular county.

"We know that West Nile Virus was here and is here," she said. "The two confirmed cases are only for tracking purposes."

One change this year is that the Lawrence County Health Department will not travel to homes to pick birds up like they did last year.

"Last year we went all around the county picking up birds," Gunstream said. "It depletes us. We just do not have the manpower."

WNV is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes that first appeared in the United States in 1999. Since then, numerous cases have been detected in humans.

Last year was the largest outbreak of any mosquito-transmitted disease in U.S. history, with Ohio ranking with third most cases. Approximately 441 human cases were reported in 56 Ohio counties with 31 fatalities, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Three birds and one human tested positive in Lawrence County, Gunstream said.

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

Gunstream again emphasized that prevention is the most important way to fight the disease. Mosquitoes need water to breed, so ideal areas for them include ponds, weeds, alleys, drain ditches, bird baths, puddles and old tires, is a potential breeding ground.

When working outside people should wear long sleeves and use some type of repellent, Gunstream said. Parents should consult their physicians before applying repellent to their children.

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

or meningitis,

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

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.

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 www.odh.state.oh.us.