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Paynesville Press - June 30, 2004

Start taking precautions against West Nile virus

A dead crow found in Dakota County has tested positive for West Nile virus (WNV), marking the beginning of the West Nile virus season in Minnesota.

"There have been no human case of West Nile yet in Minnesota this year," said Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist of the Minnesota Department of Health. "However, people should routinely take steps to protect themselves from mosquitoes so they do not become infected." West Nile virus was first detected in Minnesota in 2002. In both 2002 and 2003, West Nile was found in nearly every county in Minnesota, either in humans, horses, or birds. The highest risk of West Nile infection for both humans and horses is from mid-July to mid-September.

In 2002, 48 Minnesotans became ill with West Nile infection. In 2003, 148 human cases were reported with four deaths. One of those deaths occurred in Kandiyohi County.

In 2003, nine human cases of West Nile were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health in Kandiyohi County, eight human cases were reported in Stearns County, and four human cases were reported in Meeker County. In the tri-county area, only one human case (in Kandiyohi County) was reported to the Department of Health in 2002.

To reduce your risk of being bitten by a mosquito:

*Eliminate mosquito breeding sites on and around your property, including items such as old tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, cans and other containers, and anything else that can hold a small amount of water. Change the water in birdbaths and horse troughs at least weekly.

*Use a good mosquito repellent, containing no more than 30 percent of the active ingredient DEET, while outside among mosquitoes.

*Avoid outdoor activities at dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are feeding.

*Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants if you have to spend time in an area where mosquitoes are biting. West Nile is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus while feeding on an infected bird. The illness is not spread person-to-person.

Most humans infected by the West Nile virus show no symptoms. About 20 percent of infected people will have symptoms such as a fever and headache. Less than one percent become seriously ill.

Symptoms typically occur within three to 15 days after being bit by an infected mosquito. The most serious symptoms of West Nile infections include muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, and convulsions. The highest risk for serious illness and death occurs among people over 65 years of age.

Mosquito surveillance programs were put in place many years ago by state and local public health officials and were expanded when West Nile appeared in the United States in 1999. Those programs involve the trapping and testing of mosquitoes, testing chicken flocks placed around the state, and testing a limited number of dead birds.

Residents who spot crows or blue jays that have died without an obvious cause are asked to report it either by going to the Department of Health's website at or by calling 1-612-676-5055.

"While some municipal governments in Minnesota do have mosquito-control programs, those programs cannot eliminate all mosquitoes in a given area. The best protection is personal protection," Hull said. "These steps will protect you against West Nile and other mosquito-borne diseases. They can also reduce your exposure to ticks, which potentially carry Lyme Disease."

More information on West Nile and other forms of mosquito-borne encephalitis are available on the Department of Health's website.

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