Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2003

State officials wage war against West Nile virus

September 17, 2003

When Bill Latham found a dead blue jay in his back yard Thursday morning, he took the sighting seriously.

And he should have, said Sharon Watson, public information director for Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Protective measures against contracting West Nile virus, especially important when going outside at dawn and dusk, include:

¢ Use insect repellent containing DEET.

¢ Wear long sleeves and pants.

¢ Get rid of mosquito breeding grounds by changing water daily in bird baths, pet dishes, wading pools and flower pots.

¢ Replace torn or broken window screens.

More info

¢ Symptoms of the virus usually are mild and include fever, headache and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands.

¢ The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

¢ For information about West Nile Virus in humans, call the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, (877) 427-7317.

During the past year, birds infected with West Nile virus have been confirmed in every county in Kansas, Watson said.

And, as of Friday, there had been 23 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus in Kansas this year. So far this year, there have been no confirmed human cases of the virus in Leavenworth County.

Latham's wife, Mary, called The Mirror newspaper to find out what should be done with the bird. The next step led to the Leavenworth County Health Department, which refers callers to the Kansas West Nile Virus Dead Bird Survey Information Hotline.

Watson said she expected to see an increase in the number of confirmed human cases of the virus as pending lab reports come in.

The confirmed cases usually are more severe than others, Watson said, involving patients who have required hospitalization and who may exhibit signs of meningitis or encephalitis.

It's likely, Watson said, there have been also been numerous unconfirmed cases of West Nile virus in the state.

"The majority of West Nile virus infections are milder cases," Watson said. "Many are so mild that individuals don't recognize the symptoms as West Nile virus or may not have symptoms."

Watson is optimistic that as the years go by, West Nile virus may present less of a risk.

"The current research indicates that people do acquire an immunity," Watson said. "The trends that other states see after it's been in the state for a few years would support that because they see a drop in cases."

But, because of the dangers of the virus, Watson said the health department urges that people do all they can to prevent infection.

"The precautions sound simple, but they do require extra steps," Watson said.

There have been three confirmed cases of birds with West Nile Virus in Leavenworth County this summer, Watson said. Although she didn't know which areas they had come from, it's likely the problem is widespread.

"Birds tend to move around so much," Watson said. "That information can be deceptive to people who think, 'It's not in my part of the county.'

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