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Paynesville Press - August 11, 2004

First cases of West Nile reported this year

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced last week the first human cases of West Nile virus in Minnesota.

Three human cases of West Nile virus have been reported so far to the health department in 2004: one each in Lyon, McLeod, and Wright counties.

The first case was a 28-year-old McLeod County man who tested positive for West Nile virus at the MDH Public Health Laboratory in Minneapolis. The man became ill in mid-July with symptoms including high fever and severe headache. He was not hospitalized and has since recovered.

In the tri-county area surrounding Paynesville, only one bird has been reported with West Nile virus in 2004. That bird was found in Stearns County. No cases of West Nile have been reported - as of Friday, Aug. 6 - in either Kandiyohi County or Meeker County.

All three counties, though, are still listed as areas at high risk for West Nile virus by the health department, along with the rest of western Minnesota. Forty-nine Minnesota counties are listed as being at high risk for West Nile in 2004, due to the numbers of monitoring sites in western Culex tarsalis mosquitoes, the primary carrier of West Nile virus in Minnesota, detected at monitoring sites in western Minnesota. The other 38 counties in Minnesota are listed as being at moderate risk for West Nile.

The peak time for West Nile virus in humans runs until mid-September.

The first human cases in Minnesota reminds everyone that "we all need to take steps to prevent mosquito bites," said Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist. "While it can occur anywhere in the state, western and central Minnesota are at highest risk for West Nile virus. Also, the older you are, the higher your risk of developing serious forms of illness from the virus."

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. It cannot be spread by contact with an infected person. While usually not serious in humans, it can sometimes lead to encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.

To reduce your risk of being bitten by mosquitoes the health department recommends the following:

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

*Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants if you have to spend time in an area where mosquitoes are biting.

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

*Eliminate possible 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 even a small amount of water. Change the water in birdbaths and horse troughs at least weekly.

Hull said the threat of any one person becoming ill from West Nile virus is still extremely low. Most mosquitoes do not carry the virus, so most people bitten by a mosquito will not be exposed to the virus.

Of those who become infected, most people will have no symptoms at all or display only mild symptoms. Approximately one out of 150 people who become infected will develop encephalitis or other severe forms of the disease.

Symptoms usually show up three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms can include headache, high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and coma. Severe cases tend to occur more often in the elderly.

So far in 2004 (as of Friday, Aug. 6) West Nile virus has been found in 79 birds from 28 counties, in three horses from three counties, and in three humans in three counties in Minnesota.

A map showing updated West Nile findings in Minnesota can be found at

West Nile virus is widespread in Africa, the Middle East, and much of Europe. The virus first appeared in North America during 1999 (in New York City) and has since been found in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2003, 148 human cases of West Nile virus infection were reported in Minnesota, with four deaths. Nationwide in 2003, there were 9,858 human cases reported with 264 deaths.

So far in 2004, 265 human cases of West Nile disease have been reported in 17 states.

E. coli cases prompt recall
State health and agriculture officials are investigating five cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection in four Minnesota residents and a Wisconsin resident that are connected with frozen ground sirloin patties purchased from Sam's Club stores and manufactured by Carneco Foods of Columbus, Neb.

All of the cases were caused by E. coli O157:H7 with the same genetic fingerprint. The Minnesota residents purchased sirloin patties since the beginning of July at the Sam's Club in White Bear Lake and the Sam's Club in Eagan. The Wisconsin resident purchased sirloin patties at a Sam's Club in Waukesha.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture are advising consumers not to eat frozen sirloin patties sold under the label "Northern Plains" with the lot number 17304-CAR2 with a "Best Used By" date of 12/18/04. The implicated meat is being pulled from all Sam's Club store shelves. It is possible that this product has been sold by other Minnesota retailers.

Officials said they do not know whether any additional E. coli illnesses may be linked to the same product. MDA is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pinpoint the source of the contamination, identify other potentially contaminated lots, and determine if other stores may have received the product. Sam's Club is cooperating with the investigation and handling all refunds.

The four Minnesota cases developed between July 10 and July 24. Three cases involved adults, and one was a child. One adult was hospitalized; all four people have recovered.

Because ground beef generally is more likely to contain E. coli than other cuts of meat, health officials say it's important that consumers follow standard public health recommendations for preparing and handling ground beef. It should be cooked thoroughly before eating - to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit - or until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear.

Also, avoid contaminating other foods with any E. coli bacteria that may be present in the meat by:

*Washing hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat before they touch other food.

*Putting cooked meat on a clean platter, rather than on the one that was used to hold raw meat.

These recommendations are particularly important this time of the year, which is peak grilling season. Purchasing irradiated beef is another measure consumers can take to protect themselves.

Symptoms of E. coli illness include stomach cramps and diarrhea. Bloody diarrhea may develop. E. coli disease sometimes leads to a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can cause kidney failure. People typically become ill two to five days after eating contaminated food.

E. coli disease should not be treated with antibiotics, which can cause additional complications.

People who have developed these symptoms after consuming ground beef from this lot should contact their physician and the Minnesota Department of Health at 612-676-5414 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.

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