U.S. prepares for West Nile

The U.S. is preparing for another onset of West Nile Virus.


"We want to make sure everyone can understand how serious it is, and make sure they're ready."

—Gay Morrison

The U.S. is preparing for another onset of West Nile Virus. During 2003, more than 200 people died from the virus and more than 9,800 human cases of West Nile were reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Already in 2004, seven states have reported evidence of the virus in dead birds this spring.

The CDC also reported last week that six people contracted the West Nile Virus via blood transfusions last year, the first full year in which all donor blood was screened for it.

More than 800 blood donations were removed from the blood supply during last year's screenings because of West Nile Virus infection.

Several U.S. senators are trying to get the CDC an additional $100 million to help states with mosquito control.

Last Thursday, a group of senators requested the funds to be included for the Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health Act, a bill signed into law last August. The group included Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, the state that reported the third highest number of human West Nile cases in 2003.

"West Nile is a public health hazard in South Dakota and across the country," Daschle said in a news release. "Congress and the Bush administration must work to fund this important program."

In Colorado, the state with the most West Nile deaths in 2003, a CDC biologist is trapping birds in the eastern part of the state to test a theory that birds may be developing West Nile antibodies. That theory would mean less transmission of the disease to humans via mosquitoes that bit infected birds.

Yet for this theory to be true, the biologist says that an immunity level of at least 60 percent is needed in the bird populations to provide protection to humans. So far, only 10 to 40 percent of the 100 sparrows checked have tested positive for West Nile antibodies.

Weld County, Colo., had the second-highest number of human West Nile cases in the state last year. This year, the county health department is changing its focus to target all ages instead of the over-50 age range. "We want to make sure everyone can understand how serious it is, and make sure they're ready," said Gay Morrison, public information officer for the Weld County Health Department.

Weld County's anti-mosquito campaign will also include targeting the local migrant community, a group Morrison said was overlooked last year.

Meanwhile, across the country, eastern states are preparing as well. "We're anticipating it will again be present in Maryland this year, unfortunately," said Cyrus Lesser, chief of the Mosquito Control Section at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Lesser said the number of West Nile cases has grown since the virus first appeared in Maryland in 2000. He said the agriculture department's biggest concern this year is the spread of it to the state's eastern shore. The high number of wetlands in that area is a prime location for mosquitoes.

The counties on Maryland's eastern shore are currently educating the public about avoiding the virus, said Lesser. The education also includes recommendations on how to protect pets and farm animals. Horse vaccines do exist, but full protection requires a series of shots. "The protection from these vaccinations lasts only 90 days, so we're trying to get people to give the horses booster shots during August, September, and October - when the West Nile Virus is at its peak," Lesser said.

Lesser said that personal protection is even more important. "People should get rid of any standing water around their property and avoid being outside during peak mosquito times of day," he said. "But if you need to be outside, wear long sleeves and use a mosquito repellant that is at least 25 to 30 percent DEET. "

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Related Links:

West Nile information from the Centers for Disease Control

Colorado's West Nile


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