Thursday, August 28th, 2008
Lack of rain boosts threat of West Nile virus in Mercer and Auglaize counties
By Shelley Grieshop
The extremely dry summer has left stagnant water in some areas and created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus.
Two human cases of West Nile were confirmed this year in Ohio in Lorain and Ottawa counties. Also, this week blue jays from Lake and Stark counties were confirmed positive with the virus.
Although no birds have tested positive this year for West Nile in Mercer and Auglaize counties, the current drought-like conditions are worrying officials. Any remaining pools of water are likely stagnant now and will attract the Culex mosquito - an insect known to transmit West Nile.
Michelle Kimmel, environmental director and sanitarian at the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, asks residents to take precautions.
"Eliminate standing water on properties, such as stagnant coy ponds, stagnant water in untended bird baths or kiddie pools, stagnant water that has collected in junk or other rubbish, and stagnant water that may have collected in clogged gutters," she said.
West Nile is a potentially serious illness that is usually noted in the summer and fall months. It is mainly spread to animals and humans by mosquito bites. Infected people often experience high fever, headache and stiff neck between three and 14 days after being bitten.
In some people, particularly the very young, elderly or those with chronic illnesses, the virus can be life threatening. Patients may experience convulsions and/or paralysis and sometimes slip into a coma and die. As of Aug. 19, 236 cases of the virus have been reported in 28 states. Two cases in Arizona and Mississippi were fatal.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile infection or vaccine to prevent it.
In 2006, a blue jay found in the city of Celina tested positive for West Nile. Chris Miller of the local health department said a blue jay found dead in Mercer County on July 11 was sent in for testing but was declared negative for the virus.
"We will continue to collect dead crows or blue jays for (West Nile) testing and surveillance," he said. "However, other bird species will not be collected as they are not as effective at tracking the spread."
West Nile was first isolated in 1937 in Africa, West Asia and the Middle East and was not documented in the Western Hemisphere until an outbreak in New York City in 1999.
Joyce Jansen, director of nursing and the communicable diseases coordinator in Mercer County, said the virus is always out there and she believes more people may have it than we know.
"The state only records human cases when the person is hospitalized," she said.
She believes there are mild cases of West Nile within the general population that likely never get confirmed because patients don't seek treatment.
"And I think we may be building up a resistance to it," she added.
Health officials advise the public to apply mosquito repellant when going outdoors after 7:30 p.m. and at dawn until the sun comes up. Kimmel suggests a product containing DEET and asks adults to follow directions to safely apply it to small children.
Homeowners can keep infected mosquitoes at bay by securing tight-fitting screens on all windows and doors.