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Paynesville Press - July 30, 2003

Human case of West Nile reported in Stearns County

The first confirmed human case of West Nile virus in Stearns County was announced this week by the Public Health Division of Stearns County Human Services.

A 75-year-old Stearns County woman is being treated for an infection of West Nile virus. This is the first confirmed human case of West Nile virus in Stearns County. Last year, West Nile virus was found in 35 birds and 10 horses in the county, but not in any humans.

"This does not mean that people living in Stearns County are at any greater risk of getting West Nile virus than those people living anywhere else. It's random," said Renee Frauendienst, director of the public health division.

This is the second confirmed human case in Minnesota this year. Earlier this month, a Faribault County man tested positive for the virus. West Nile has also been found in three Minnesota horses in Crow Wing, Sherburne, and Washington counties this year and in six birds in the metro area.

West Nile virus is transmitted through mosquitoes. It cannot be spread by contact with an infected person. The disease is rarely serious in humans but can sometimes lead to encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

It's important to realize that the threat of a person getting sick from West Nile virus is extremely low, according to public health officials. Most mosquitoes do not carry the virus.

For people who become infected, most will not have any symptoms or will only display mild symptoms. Fewer than one out of 150 infected people will get severely ill.

Symptoms can include: headache, high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and coma. Symptoms usually appear three to 15 days after being bitten.

Severe cases tend to occur more often in the elderly.

The best thing to do to prevent West Nile virus is to take steps to protect yourself from mosquitoes:

•By using a good repellent, containing no more than 30 percent DEET;

•By wearing long sleeves and long pants if you have to spend time outside where mosquitoes are biting. •By avoiding being outside at dusk or dawn, when mosquitoes are feeding.

•By eliminating mosquito-breeding sites on your property - such as old tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, cans, and other containers that can hold water. Also change the water in birdbaths and troughs at least weekly.

In 2002, 48 human cases of West Nile virus were reported in Minnesota, with no deaths. Nationwide, 4,156 human cases were reported last year with 284 deaths.

So far this year, five other human cases have been reported in three states.

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