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West Nile Virus Prompts Concern

Officials urge caution but not alarm

POLK COUNTY -- The West Nile Virus will find its way to Polk County eventually.

Although there have been no reported cases, Polk County Public Health Nurse Connie Montague said the disease -- spread largely by mosquitoes -- will probably strike here sometime this summer.

West Nile virus is an infection that lives in birds and is spread to humans and horses by mosquitoes that have fed on an infected bird. The virus is not spread from person to person or directly to people from birds or animals.

The chance of contracting the virus is minimal, Montague said. Many people who are exposed don't become sick. Most cases are mild with flulike symptoms such as fever, headache, weakness, swollen glands and rash.

In rare cases, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain and result in serious illness or death, Montague said.

Symptoms can include headache, high fever, stiff neck, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.

She recommends anyone with severe or unusual headaches should seek medical attention as soon as possible. The risk of West Nile encephalitis is higher for people 50 and older.

There is a vaccine for horses but none for humans. But there are things people can do to reduce their exposure to the virus.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, prefer shade and can hide in tall grass.

Eliminating standing water that can support mosquito breeding is the best prevention against the infection, Montague said.

She recommends routinely emptying water from flowerpots, pet bowls, swimming pools, discarded tires, clogged rain gutters, barrels, cans and other items that collect water in which mosquitoes can lay eggs.

Montague advises people to try and avoid mosquito bites by:

♦ Applying insect repellent containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluadmide).

♦ Avoiding putting the repellent on children's hands, mouth and around their eyes.

♦ Staying indoors between dusk and dawn, (prime mosquito-biting time).

♦ Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when outdoors.

♦ Spraying clothing with repellent.

♦ Installing or repairing window and door screens to keep mosquitoes from coming indoors. Mosquitoes often slip into houses and bite at night.

♦ Keeping lawns mowed.

Because birds carry virus, anyone who finds dead or dying birds, especially crows, jays and magpies, over a two- to three-day period should call Polk County Environmental Health at 503- 623-9237 or Polk County Public Health at 503-623-8175.

Do not touch the dead birds with your bare hands. Use gloves or an inverted plastic bag to place the carcass in a plastic bag. Refrigerate or freeze immediately.

More information about West Nile virus, bird testing and mosquito protection is available on the Polk County Public Health Information Line at 503-623-8176 in English and Spanish.

The Oregon Department of Human Services has a tollfree phone information line at 866-703-4636 (INFO). Recorded topics include disease facts, symptoms and ways to reduce the risk of infection.

For medical professionals, the phone line offers clinical information for diagnosing, treating and reporting a suspected West Nile case. The messages are recorded in English and Spanish.

The virus is named for the West Nile District of Uganda, where it was first isolated in 1937. It appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York and has steadily spread westward.

Oregon is one of three states in the nation to not yet have a confirmed case. Idaho has had one positive case in a horse. California has confirmed 10 human cases of West Nile virus.

Preventive measures already under way in Oregon include surveillance of birds for signs of the disease, sampling and testing of mosquitoes at various locations, increased capacity for testing horses for the virus and increased capacity for testing at the state public health laboratory.

Polk County has in place a system for reporting and controlling unusual diseases, clusters and patterns of diseases and other conditions through its communicable disease program.

There is no vector control program in Polk County to control mosquitoes and other pests.

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