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Front Page » August 12, 2003 » Local News » West Nile not yet confirmed in local area as testing cont...
Published 3,904 days ago

West Nile not yet confirmed in local area as testing continues


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


Pat Terrell who works for Carbon County Mosquito Abatement has been busy all summer setting out mosquito traps, checking sentinel chickens and treating for mosquitos in various areas around the county. He's part of the crew that examined the sentinal chickens that are possbily infected with the disease in the area. Final tests results will be released soon.

Almost everyone knows it is coming. No one denies that it will be here at some point in time.

But as of yet, no one knows for sure if it is here.

"It" is the West Nile virus and reports on both television and in one upstate daily newspaper says that preliminary tests in the Price area says it has arrived.

It's true that mosquito abatement personnel in the area have discovered what appears to be the virus in sentinel chickens near Ridge Road. However, further testing will need to be done, indicated the local health department.

"The problem with these kinds of reports is that there are many false positives," stated Terrie Wright of the Southeastern Utah Health District. "We can't really comment on the situation until the final tests are completed."

Statewide tests on 14 humans, nine horses, 7,000 mosquitoes and 264 chickens have all been negative in the state so far. But that doesn't mean the health department is standing still on the problem.

What the department is doing is advising Carbon County residents to take preventative measures because that is the best way to be safe.

The disease, which has a much longer history than most people think, has been traveling further west every year since it was first discovered in the United States in 1999.

No one knows how it got here, but authorities do know that the first case was recorded in Uganda in 1937 and has spread north, east and west into Asia, Europe and now to the United States.

The disease, which has become an almost household word in the eastern part of the U.S. has constantly moved west during the last four years, with increasing misery in it's wake.

The statistics on the disease, which is called an Arthropod-borne virus and is transmitted to humans mainly through the bite of an infected mosquito, has taken an increasing toll on people since it was first discovered on the continent.

In 1999, 62 cases were reported, mostly in New Jersey and New York. Seven deaths resulted from those cases.

Then in 2000 it spread to 12 total states, but only 21 cases were reported. One reported death resulted from these cases. However, it came back with renewed range and depth of infection in 2001 as it crossed the borders into every state east of the Mississippi and incurred 66 cases with nine people dying.

The disease is not only a human disease, but also infects some types of bird populations as well as horses. Only a few instances of other domestic animals being infected have been detected.

In 2002, the disease went comparably wild as it spread into every state but four in the lower 48 (Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Utah). Over 4000 cases in humans were reported nation wide and 277 people died from the disease.

Animal deaths also escalated steeply last year with 14,901 cases found in horses (with a 30 percent fatality rate) and 15,745 birds were found dead with positive results for the infection.

In comparison, the disease is minor compared to many other infectious diseases and certainly to many chronic syndromes such as cancer and heart disease.

According to health officials, the disease, which in various forms affects the tissue surrounding the brain, the brain itself and the general neurological system, is not transmitted from person to person, nor can it come from horses or birds; it comes only from the bite of mosquitos.

Most people who get the disease do not even know they have it. In fact one of the ways that health departments across the country have checked for the disease is to look at the antibodies present in human blood.

A minor infection will cause only slight symptoms, like a headache, but will make those antibodies, which means the person will never get that strain of the disease again.

Others may be affected more dramatically. Symptoms include fever, body aches, rashes and swollen lymph glands (this is called west Nile fever).

When the infection is severe a stiff neck, muscle weakness and disorientation result. At this point the infection becomes west Nile meningitis/ encephalitis. According to medical professionals, patients in this condition may have seizures, go into a coma and sometimes die.

"We are learning new things about this disease all the time," says Dr. Robert Rolfs the epidemiologist for the health department. "One of the things we know is that this disease is age sensitive."

Rolfs points out that the risk of the disease becoming severe is much greater for those over 50.

"It grows proportionately with age," he says. "For instance those that are between 50 to 59 years of age have a 10 fold risk of getting the disease in it's severe form over those that are 19 years old. For someone over 80 the risk goes up 43 times over the 19 year old."

However, the public should not be extremely alarmed about this disease because the chances of incurring the worst wrath of the malady is small. The vast majority of people who have contacted it hardly know they have and only one in 150 will develop neurologic symptoms.

But that doesn't mean Carbon County residents shouldn't do things to protect themselves from the disease. Individuals have two different areas in which they can concentrate to cut the chances of the disease spreading to them or their families.

First, make sure screen doors and window screens are in good shape and fit properly. This will keep the mosquitos out of buildings.

Secondly eliminate standing water on any property. That means dump water out of any old cans, tires or birdbaths.

If there are pools of unmoving water in the area, drain them, particularly old, unkept fountains or swimming pools.

Keep tall weeds and grass cut down short. Also clean out leaf clogged gutters and repair leaking faucets and sprinklers so as not to provide a breeding ground for the insects.

As for being outdoors, there are a number of options. Wearing long pants and shirts with long sleeves and applying mosquito repellent that contains DEET to bare skin.

For adults the concentration of DEET should be 30 to 35 percent and for children two through 12 a 10 percent or less solution should be used.

Do not apply repellents for children under two.

These measures may sound drastic, but aren't as draconian as they may seem due to the type of mosquito that appears to carry the virus.

Two types of mosquitos that carry the virus are common to the area and both of those only feed at dawn and dusk. Otherwise there is a rare chance that bites that can infect will take place.

The public war against these mosquitos is also in place. Since the disease is carried short range by mosquitos the transfer of the disease across the country appears to be taking place by birds that the mosquitos bite.

The state health department, along with the mosquito abatement districts and counties are setting up mosquito traps to find out if the disease is in the area.

The chickens in pens near Ridge Road are known as "sentinel birds" to test for the disease.

Birds, horses and humans are considered accidental or dead end hosts to the disease, meaning the either get over it or die and do not pass it along farther.

Other animals, such as cattle, goats, domestic dogs and cats, do not seem to incur the disease.

Scientists are presently working on a vaccine for humans, but have not found a formula that works yet. However, there is a vaccine for horses.

"People ask us why we have developed a vaccine for horses but not for humans quite often," explained Rolfs. "The problem is that making a vaccine for a human is very different than it is for an animal. It is much more complicated."

So the best way for local residents to deal with the possible occurrence of the disease is for them to take the measures that the health department suggests to keep the possibilities down.

"As soon as we know the results of the final tests we will release the information," concluded Wright.


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