Friday, August 03, 2001

Virus is coming, health officials say

Expect West Nile to arrive here by next year

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Greater Cincinnati health officials said Thursday that evidence of the West Nile virus could appear here within the next year now that a blue jay in northeast Ohio was confirmed to be infected with the mosquito-borne disease.

        Still, health officials urged residents to heighten precautions immediately. That means protection from mosquitos by restricting time outdoors in the evening, wearing long sleeves and pants when outside at night, and getting rid of tires, buckets, recycling containers, birdbaths and other sources of stagnant water. Still waters are ideal mosquito breeding grounds.

        “Mosquitoes usually don't like moving water,” said Dr. Judith Daniels, medical director for the Cincinnati Health Department.

        The infected blue jay was found in Concord Township in Lake County, about 25 miles northeast of Cleveland, Ohio Health Department officials said Wednesday. No human cases have been reported in Ohio.

        The invasion into Ohio was expected after the virus was reported last year near Erie, Pa., and adjacent parts of western New York.

        Dr. Daniels said she has been impressed by the virus' ability to spread quickly.

        “Right now, it's pretty much considered inevitable that it's just going to spread around the country,” she said.

        Ohio has been trying to keep the virus out of the state for several months. More than 12,000 mosquitoes and 100 blue jays and crows, which are especially susceptible to the virus, have been tested this year, said Jay Carey, spokesman for the Ohio Health Department.

        That testing will intensify throughout the state.

        In May, 12 Greater Cincinnati agencies formed the South West Area Regional Mosquito Task Force — or SWARM — to address the West Nile virus threat.

        Tim Ingram, Hamilton County health commissioner, and Chris Eddy, environmental health director for the Hamilton County General Health District, urge area residents to report to their local health agency whenever they find a crow or blue jay that has just died so that they can test for the virus.

        But Mr. Carey reminded Greater Cincinnatians not to panic.

        “Where the West Nile virus (has been) reported, less than 1 percent of the mosquitos are infected, and less than 1 percent of the people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will become severely ill. It's an emerging pathogen in Ohio. You need to be aware of it and take precautions, but there's no need to panic.”

        The West Nile virus was first isolated in 1937 in Uganda's West Nile district. It can cause deadly encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, in older people and those with weak immune systems.

        Since 1999, the virus has killed nine people in New York and New Jersey. The disease has proved fatal in about 10 percent of infected humans and fatal in about 30 to 40 percent of infected horses.


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