Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Universities team up to track virus

October 17, 2001

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has formed a partnership with the University of Kansas and Kansas State University to monitor for West Nile Virus in Kansas.

Dead birds are being monitored through the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History and selected birds will be tested at the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center.

"West Nile Virus has not been found yet among birds, animals, or humans in Kansas," said Dr. Gail Hansen, KDHE state public health veterinarian.

"However, the movement of the virus west across the country has been more rapid than originally projected and I expect to see the virus in Kansas. We are working closely with the two major universities to identify and then track the virus in the state."

During 2001, 25 cases of West Nile Virus encephalitis have been reported in the United States. The disease produces flu-like symptoms and is usually a mild disease, but the elderly and people with weak immune systems can develop brain inflammation and serious consequences.

At least 10 people in the United States have died since the mosquito borne illness first appeared in 1999 in New York.

There is no specific treatment for the disease nor a vaccine to prevent it in humans.

The virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Birds, especially crows and other scavenger birds, are susceptible to West Nile Virus and usually die within two to three weeks of infection. Dead birds cannot transmit the virus, but rather serve as indicators that the West Nile Virus is around.

The virus in not spread from bird to person or person to person. West Nile Virus has spread to about two dozen U.S. states, and birds with the virus have been found in nearby states including Missouri, Arkansas, and Iowa. No West Nile Virus positive samples have been found in Kansas. Entomologists through the Kansas State University have been collecting mosquitoes and doing limited sentinel bird blood testing around the state.

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum is coordinating dead bird surveillance in Kansas. Limited testing will be done this fall on dead birds found in good condition.

Call the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History at (785) 864-3926 for reporting dead birds and for information on submitting birds for testing. Birds for testing should be placed in two plastic bags and frozen.

More information on dead bird monitoring and testing in Kansas can be found at: http://nhm.ku.edu/birds/.

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