Health officials brace for West Nile
Virus is expected to be here by July
June 4, 2003 — County health officials are preparing for the arrival of the West Nile Virus, and among their top messages to concerned citizens: Keep things in perspective.
The West Nile Virus arrived in the United States four years ago and is expected to hit Oregon as early as next month. Oregon is one of just four states in the continental U.S. that is yet to have a reported case. The others are Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
"I think the fear is how swiftly it's spread," said Sue Fuller, the county's sanitarian and emergency planning coordinator. "We kind of need to tone down the fear a little bit."
The West Nile virus is harbored in birds and spread through the bites of mosquitoes. It can infect people, horses, birds and other animals. In some people, the virus can cause encephalitis, or swelling of the brain.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, last year there were 284 deaths nationwide out of 4,156 human infections.
So far, no human infections have been reported in 2003.
Keeping the disease in perspective, influenza, or the flu, killed 36,000 Americans in 2002.
Patty Thomas, the county's communicable disease coordinator, said the chances of getting sick, or even dying from West Nile, are very slim.
"If they do get it, unless they're older than 50 years and have health problems, they're not going to get seriously ill," Thomas said.
Liberal estimates suggest 20 percent of humans infected show symptoms. And of that 20 percent, only 1 out of 150 cases prove fatal.
Regardless, the county is taking steps to prepare for West Nile's likely arrival.
Last month, the county formed a citizens advisory board to explore the threat of the virus. The group has floated several recommendations to the county commission that are awaiting approval.
• Hiring what's known as a vector control manager to analyze and test for West Nile Virus in mosquitoes. This is to be done when the virus arrives in Oregon, or is suspected in Jefferson County.
• Training certain citizens — whether law enforcement, farmers or public health employees — in bird surveillance and collection procedures. This would give them authority to collect suspected West Nile Virus carrying birds.
• Launch a mass education program that includes the distribution of flyers and fact sheets to provide information and prevention tips.
Fuller said the virus is "endemic," meaning once it's here, it's here to stay.
"When it hits Oregon, that's when everyone is going to begin talking," Thomas said.
The health department is offering several answers to West Nile Virus questions, and tips to reduce the local mosquito population (see Q&A below).
"The biggest thing is to knock down anxiety first," Thomas said.
WEST NILE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
What is the West Nile Virus?
West Nile Virus is a disease mostly affecting birds. It is spread among birds by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes get the virus from biting infected birds and then can pass it on to other birds, animals or people. These mosquitoes can sometimes bite a person, but most people do not become very sick. In some people, West Nile Virus can cause encephalitis, or swelling of the brain.
How would I get West Nile Virus?
Humans can get West Nile Virus from the bite of a mosquito that is carrying the virus or through blood transfusions or organ donations from an infected donor. You cannot get West Nile Virus from donating your blood. There is also the possibility that the virus can be passed from pregnant mothers to unborn children. West Nile Virus may be passed through breast milk, but mothers are still encouraged to breast-feed their babies. In the majority of cases, West Nile Virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.
Can I get West Nile Virus directly from birds?
There is no evidence that a person can get the virus by handling live or dead infected birds. However, it is important to wear gloves when handling any dead animal and was thoroughly with soap and hot water after removing gloves.
Is a West Nile Virus infection serious?
Most people who are infected do not get sick at all. Some people who are infected may develop a mild illness, with fever and body aches. Less than 1 percent of people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill. The elderly are at greatest risk for serious illness.
What are symptoms of West Nile Virus?
Most people who are infected have no symptoms. Some people may have fever, headache, nausea, body aches or other symptoms. Very rarely the disease may progress to encephalitis, which may cause severe headache, confusion, weakness or dizziness. The time between mosquito bite and onset of illness ranges from three to 14 days in humans.
What should I do if I think I may have symptoms of West Nile Virus?
Call your health care provider if you have concerns about your health. See your provider immediately if you or your family members develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness and severe headaches. Tell your provider if you have been active outdoors or have recent mosquito bites.
Does West Nile Virus affect dogs, cats or horses?
There is a very low infection rate in dogs and cats. West Nile Virus causes illness and deaths in horses. West Nile Virus vaccine for horses is available. If you are concerned, contact your veterinarian.
How can I reduce the number of mosquitoes around my home and neighborhood?
Decrease the places where mosquitoes breed. Mosquitoes reproduce by laying eggs on standing water. Mosquitoes can develop in any standing water that lasts more than four days. Even a small bucket with standing water can become home to up to 1,000 mosquitoes. Here are some tips to remove standing water:
• Throw away empty tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or other containers.
• Remove old tires, and turn over wheelbarrows.
Ponds and pools
• Do not allow water gardens or ornamental ponds to stand still or stagnate.
• Use mosquito fish in ponds or water gardens.
• Turn over wading pools when not in use.
• Change the water in birdbaths at least once a week.
• Keep swimming pools cleaned and chlorinated. Empty water that collects on swimming pool covers.
Other standing water
• Fill in puddles. Report large areas of standing water at www.mchealthinspect.org.
• Clean rain gutters so water flows freely.
How can I protect myself and Family?
Here or the best ways to decrease the chances of mosquito bites:
• Install or repair all window and door screens.
• Consider staying indoors during peak mosquito biting times, dusk to dawn.
• Wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants whenever you are outdoors.
• Avoid perfumes and cologne when outdoors for long periods of time.
• Use a mosquito repellent containing 20 percent to 30 percent DEET (a chemical used as insect repellent) for adults and no more than 10 percent for children when outdoors. Do not use mosquito repellent containing DEET on children under three years of age.
• Hunters should wear gloves when handling and cleaning animals to prevent blood exposure to bare hands. Game meet should be cooked thoroughly.
• Limit outdoor activities when advised by local officials.
What should I do if I find a dead bird?
Call the Jefferson County Health Department at 475-4456.
Who should I call if I have a question or need more information?
Call the health department at 475-4456 or Oregon State Health and Human Services at 1-800-703-4636.