Thursday, September 27, 2001

West Nile here; risk said slight

Virus found in birds in Northern Ky., Ohio

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        With two cases in Greater Cincinnati of birds infected with the West Nile virus, health officials said Wednesday that there is no reason to panic.

        Dr. Sue Billings, a medical epidemiologist with the Kentucky Department of Public Health in Frankfort, said Wednesday that a grackle — a black, crow-like bird with yellow eyes — found dead near Union in Boone County had tested positive for the virus.

    Northern Kentucky residents who find a dead bird or have an animal they suspect has been infected can either call the Northern Kentucky District Health Department office in Edgewood at (859) 341-4264 or (859) 341-4151 or the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources in Frankfort at (800) 858-1549, Ext. 352.
    In Hamilton County, residents can take birds to the Environmental Health Division of the Hamilton County General Health District at 250 William Howard Taft Road in Corryville or call 946-7832. The district will pick up the animals if necessary.
    In addition, these four Web sites providing information:
    • U.S. Centers for Disease Control ( Click on “health topics” and scroll to “West Nile Virus.”
    • Kentucky State Department of Health ( Look for the “hot topics” box and click on “West Nile Virus.”
    • Ohio Department of Health ( Click on “alerts and warnings,” then on “West Nile Virus.”
    • Indiana State Department of Health ( Click on “what's new,” then “media releases.”

   Here are some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of exposure to mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus:
   • Stay indoors during peak mosquito hours, usually in the evenings.
   • Wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants, shoes and socks when outdoors.
   • Use mosquito repellant.
   • Turn over or remove containers that collect water, such as buckets, old tires and flowerpots.
   • Clean out birdbaths and wading pools once a week.
   • Clean roof gutters and downspout screens regularly.
        A crow found near Banning Road in Colerain Township also tested positive, said Hamilton County Health Commissioner Tim Ingram. Two other birds — a crow found near West Fork Road in Green Township and a blue jay near Kenbyrne Drive in Springfield Township — are being tested by the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus.

        “The potential for risk is here, but it's very small, less than 1 percent,” said Peggy Patterson, public health information manager with the Northern Kentucky District Health Department in Edgewood.

        The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness that can produce no symptoms, flu-like symptoms or severe symptoms that lead to death, depending on the infected person's immune strength.

        It was discovered in the West Nile region in Uganda in 1937, but did not appear in the United States until 1999, when it surfaced in New York.

        Ms. Patterson said it can be contracted by humans, horses or other mammals from an infected mosquito only, not by contact with another infected human or animal. There are no confirmed human cases in Kentucky, the Cabinet for Health Services stated Monday. There also are no confirmed human cases in Ohio, its Department of Health Web site indicates.

        Most people with the virus don't get sick, Ms. Patterson said. Mild symptoms include a rash and swollen glands.

        But elderly people and those with weakened immune systems could suffer more severe symptoms, such as sudden headache, stiff neck, high fever and disorientation.

        Dr. Billings said that could result in a coma if untreated.

        “Seek medical attention,” Dr. Billings said. “It's going to take a lab test to determine what illness you have; it could be a number of things.”

        Ms. Patterson said her agency would send any birds it received to the state health department. The University of Kentucky Livestock Disease Diagnostic Laboratory conducts the tests.

        The grackle found in Union is one of 19 infected birds found in eight Kentucky counties — Boone, Clark, Daviess, Fayette, Hardin, Jefferson, Oldham and Wodford — since the virus appeared in a horse in Bourbon County on Aug 31. The horse has recovered.

        Mr. Ingram said the crow found in Colerain Township is the first to be discovered in Southwest Ohio. Until now, the only infected bird the Ohio Department of Health listed was a single blue jay in Lake County.

        According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 20 birds have tested positive for the virus in Lake and Marion counties since Sept. 12. No human cases have been confirmed there.

        Mr. Ingram said the Southwest Area Regional Mosquito Task Force, a group of health officials on both sides of the Ohio River, has been meeting monthly since May to track and prevent mosquito infestation.

        In addition, two types of traps have been placed in Hamilton, Boone and Campbell counties.

        Ms. Patterson said female mosquitoes are enticed into laying eggs by either a fermented mixture of water and grass clippings or a light, and then the eggs are vacuumed away.

        Dr. Billings said more than 100 horses in Florida have contracted the virus and that the virus has moved as far west as Iowa.

        Mr. Ingram said one reason autumn is his favorite season is for what it does to mosquitoes.

        “When you get below 50 degrees, mosquitoes don't like it,” Mr. Ingram said. “They're basically inactive.”

        Temperatures in the Tristate have been uncharacteristically low in the past two days, with overnight lows recorded below 40 degrees Wednesday morning, thus reducing the risk of West Nile Virus infection.

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- West Nile here; risk said slight