County moves against West Nile Virus

POLK COUNTY -- Scientists say there is no chance of the West Nile Virus coming to Oregon.

At least for another year or so.

However, Polk County officials aren't taking any chances.

The disease is spread primarily through migratory birds. "We are monitoring the situation and have a plan in place should we discover birds and/or experience any human cases," said Gene Clemens, environmental health manager for the county.

Still, officials at the Oregon Department of Human Services say there is nothing to worry about. Yet.

There has been one case of the virus in Oregon. However, the woman infected had come into the state from Michigan.

"Because many people are worried about West Nile Virus, we want to stress that this is not an illness that can be spread from one person to another," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist.

"Also, the virus has not been detected in any animals or mosquitoes in Oregon."

West Nile Virus lives in birds and mosquitoes and can be transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The virus originally showed up in humans in Uganda in 1937. It made its way to the Western Hemisphere in 1999. Although the virus can be deadly, causing encephalitis in humans, the risk of death is really quite small, Kohn said.

Most people who get the virus have mild or no symptoms. On rare occasions, it can cause severe encephalitis -- resulting in an inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord and lining of the brain.

Birds play the most important role in the spread of the disease. Since 1999, the virus has spread across the country and been found in more than 6,000 bird samples in 43 states and infected more than 2,400 people.

Polk County officials are responding by cautioning people against touching dead birds.

If people find dead crows, jays or magpies that have been dead for less than 48 hours, they should call Polk County Environmental Health at 503-623-9237 for assistance.

Do not pick up dead birds with bare hands.

Wear gloves and place the bird in a plastic bag, preferably double bagged. The bird can be placed in a leakproof container with sealed ice.

Do not use dry ice or wet ice placed in bags that will leak. Birds should not be decomposed, desiccated or bug infested. They must be less than 48 hours dead to test.

People with horses are encouraged to contact their veterinarian about vaccinating against West Nile Virus.

More information is available by calling 503-623-8175.


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