Archive for Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Shouts and Murmurs: It never hurts to listen to mom

September 18, 2002

After six months and no guano, my mother painted the bat house black.

Last Christmas she gave all of her children bat houses. After all, West Nile Virus was on its way, and bats eat mosquitoes, don't they.

Hers she had hung on the south side of the two-story white frame house at the top of Strawberry Hill where since 1956 my parents have lived and where I have never seen a bat. But that doesn't mean they're not there.

She hung her house early, as directed, so homeless bats could locate it by the spring moving season. But by June, when there were no signs of habitation, my mother called her handyman and he painted her bat house black because perhaps the bats will be able to see it better against the white house.

I thought she was overreacting. After all, I hadn't paid much attention to news about the westward movement of West Nile Virus. I didn't realize it would so soon become a thing Kansans would have to deal with. Across the nation, dozens of humans have died from the disease, although it should be noted that many of these persons were in compromised health to begin with. And, in Kansas, the first victims of West Nile Virus have been horses.

According to Dr. Bonnie Rush, professor of equine medicine at Kansas State University, West Nile Virus poses a serious threat to horses.

Owners can take precautions, she said.

Horses should be vaccinated. This consists of an initial vaccine, and a booster three to six weeks later. Horses are not considered immune to West Nile Virus until several weeks after the second vaccine.

As important as vaccination, Rush said, is mosquito control.

She recommends changing water in horse tanks once a week and trying to eliminate standing water. Horses should be kept out of the woods, and she recommends that in the evening, when mosquitoes feed the most, the horses should be put into a barn.

KDHE announced Friday that West Nile Virus had been detected in 57 counties in Kansas, including Leavenworth County.

The first signs of the disease in a horse, Rush said, is facial twitching, including blinking of the eyes and chewing with the mouth. The horse will also appear to become disoriented and uncoordinated.

"The horse will be unable to rise," Rush said. "Some horses will start out with one leg that they can't use at all and they may progress to having multiple limbs that aren't usable."

Prognosis varies. The horse may be mildly ill for four or five days, it may recover after weeks of treatment, or it may die.

Rush said about 70 percent of horses that contract West Nile Virus will survive. Of the ones that die, about half the deaths can be attributed to injuries incurred during the neurological phase, such as fractured skulls and other broken bones.

So far, she said, horses are the only livestock species recognized to be susceptible. The K-State hospital, as of mid-last week, had treated 20 horses and had nine in-hospital horses. And, Rush said, there were more horses being treated in the field.

West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes female mosquitoes that in order to lay eggs must have a diet that includes blood. If a mosquito bites a bird infected with West Nile Virus, and then bites a horse, or a human, the disease can be transmitted.

In humans, the disease usually causes mild symptoms and does not require medical treatment. Severe cases may resemble symptoms of encephalitis.

And so, after looking into West Nile Virus, I now take comfort in the fact that the bat house Mom gave us is hanging in our backyard. It just goes to show no matter how old (or young) we are, it never hurts to listen to our mothers.

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