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Front Page » July 8, 2004 » Local News » Health district cautions residents to remain alert for We...
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Health district cautions residents to remain alert for West Nile virus

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Last year, Colorado was the hotbed of the West Nile virus, with many human cases reported and dozens of animals being infected with the disease.

But to date in 2004, Colorado has not experienced one case of West Nile virus, while Arizona has reported 38 incidents involving the disease.

At the end of last summer, Utah reported the state's first animal and human cases of the disease and health officials braced for an onslaught of West Nile in 2004, expecting a Colorado 2003 scenario.

But so far, Utah has not verified one case of the disease.

"We have continued to monitor for cases. We have continued to look for mosquitoes that carry the disease and we are looking for animals that might be infected," pointed out Terrie Wright of the Southeastern Utah Health District on Tuesday. "So far as I know, nothing has been found this year."

The local scenario does not fit the national trend experienced in the last few seasons, where a state will get a touch of the disease one year and then West Nile hits hard the next.

"I am hoping that all the education we have put out about the disease is the reason for this result," said Wright. "But our first clue it was present in our area didn't show up last year until the first part of August. We just need to stay vigilant."

The disease, which originated in Africa, started to appear on the East Coast of the United States in 1999. Each year, the virus has progressed a couple of states at a time across the nation.

How West Nile actually got into the U.S. has not been determined, but authorities have confirmed that the first case was recorded in Uganda in 1937. The disease then spread north, east and west into Asia, Europe and to the United States.

The year before last, the disease appeared in Colorado. Last year, West Nile escalated anhd Utah state officials expected the disease to do the same in 2004.

As a result, the local health department is continuing to advise Carbon County residents to take preventative measures because that is the best way to be safe from the flu-like disease that can have much more negative effects than a headache.

The statistics on the malady, which is called an Arthropod-borne virus and is transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, has taken an increasing toll on people since West Nile was first discovered on the North American continent.

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

In 2000, the disease spread to 12 states, but only 21 cases were reported. One reported death resulted from the cases occurring in 2000.

However, West Nile came back with renewed range and depth of infection in 2001 as the disease crossed the borders into every state east of the Mississippi, resulting 66 confirmed cases and claiming the lives of nine victims.

West Nile is not only a human disease, but the virus also infects some types of bird populations as well as horses.

Only a few instances of other domestic animals being infected have been detected. However, horses are at high risk.

In 2002, the disease went comparably wild as West Nile spread into all regions across the U.S. except four of the lower 48 states - Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. More than 4,000 cases in humans were reported nationwide and 277 people died from the disease.

Animal deaths also escalated steeply in 2002, with 14,901 cases found in horses and a 30 percent fatality rate. In addition, 15,745 birds were found dead with positive results for the infection.

Last year, the numbers increased again. The disease showed up in 45 states with 9,306 cases and 240 deaths.

In Colorado, 2,943 cases were confirmed with 54 people dying.

Out of the 29 counties in the state, West Nile virus showed up in nine, including Carbon, Emery, Grand, Duchesne, Uintah, Utah, Sanpete and Millard.

During the current year, Arizona has reported 38 human cases and the first human death from West Nile in the U.S. for 2004.

California has confirmed 10 human cases and New Mexico has reported three West Nile incidents. South Dakota and Wyoming have reported one human West Nile virus case in 2004.

One significant detail Utahns should be aware of is that West Nile virus activity has begun much earlier this year than in the past.

In comparison to other infectious diseases, the malady is minor. But it is nonetheless a threat to everyone who lives around it.

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 to humans from horses or birds. It only comes from the bite of mosquitos.

Most people who get the disease do not even know they have it. In fact one way that health departments across the country have checked for the disease is to look at the antibodies present in human blood which are produced once a person has been infected.

Most infections are very slight. Other people may be affected more dramatically. Symptoms include fever, body aches, rashes and swollen lymph glands.

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 or even die.

The risk of the disease becoming severe is significantly greater for individuals older than 50 years of age.

In fact, statistics compiled by public health agencies nationwide show that people older than 50 are 10 times more likely to get West Nile than younger individuals.

For people older than 80 ,the chances are exponentially higher. The risk goes up 43 times as compared to a 19 year old.

While the vast majority of people who have contracted the disease may experience only mild symptoms, West Nile still poses a substantial risk to the health of the general public

"Prevention is the key," stated Wright. "Despite it not showing up yet this year, we want people to continue to do the things we have asked to prevent it."

One of the major measures Carbon County residents can implement to protect against the disease is to take steps to prevent mosquitoes from breeding on private property.

People should also take steps to protect humans from the mosquitos' bite.

Health officials encourage local citizens to:

•Make sure screen doors and window screens are in good shape and fit properly.

•Eliminate standing water.

For example dump water out of any old cans, tires or birdbaths

A good way to keep water out of tires is to cut the tires in half.

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

•Keep tall weeds and grass cut down.

Also clean out leaf clogged gutters and repair leaking faucets and sprinklers so as not to provide a breeding ground for the insects

•Drain horse and animal troughs and outside watering dishes for domestic animals often.

There are also mosquito dunks available for putting in troughs. The products provide biological, non-toxic control methods and can be used without harm.

While in the outdoors, there are a number of options that people can follow.

Wearing long pants and shirts with long sleeves and applying mosquito repellent that contains DEET to bare skin are the best prevention methods.

Many older people tend to think that they no longer get bitten by mosquitoes because the telltale bump does not show up.

But most older people's skin becomes tough and the bumps will not show up even when the seniors are attacked. The bottom line is - older people need to apply DEET, too.

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. Officials say not to apply repellents for children under two.

The mosquitos that carry the disease primarily bite between dusk and dawn, with the height of their attacks at each end of that time period.

However, measures for protection should be taken during the entire nighttime period.

Public entities in the Carbon County area are also at war with the insects.

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 insects bite.

Many agencies are working to control the mosquito population, including the Carbon County Mosquito Control Department.

Researchers are presently working on developing a vaccine to protect humans from the West Nile virus, but have not found a formula that fights the disease.

But there is a vaccine for horses. Horses can be vaccinated at a local veterinarian's office. Last year as the disease arrived in the state, the devastating effects to horses could be seen.

"There's a lot of summer left and it can still appear in the area," commented Wright. "June was cool and people get fooled by that weather. People need to continue to apply the measures we have suggested for control and prevention."

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