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03-14-03: Experts expect worse West Nile Virus season
The Daily Standard
    Get ready for a bigger and bolder West Nile Virus season - maybe.
    Epidemiologists nationwide are estimating the mosquito-born illness will quickly be detectable in all the 48 contiguous states and may become a more crafty disease, possibly finding new ways of transmission.
    Several aspects of the upcoming epidemic are still up in the air, such as how early it will begin and what shape will the virus take.
    A report from the American Medical News (AMN) this week states that progress is moving rapidly toward a vaccination, but it most likely won't be ready by this summer. Also, a quick test for the virus is being sought by the Food and Drug Administration and should be available this summer.
    Last year, reports surfaced of people who caught the virus through blood transfusions, organ donations and from mother-to-baby via breast milk. These cases are scares so the CDC is not warning mothers against breast-feeding their offspring this summer. The virus has also turned up in other animals, but infection came from mosquitoes. There is still no proof of direct animal-human or human to human transmission.
    Local officials are gearing up for the epidemic, but any new plans to combat the virus have yet to be disclosed.
    Mercer County/Celina City Board of Health Director of Environmental Health, Michelle Kimmel said she has not received an action plan from the state health department, but the agency is developing one.
    "If we get a wet spring and more rain, it could increase cases over last year," Kimmel said.
    The local health department collected dead birds for the state health department last year, until enough information proved the virus was in the county. This year, Kimmel said her department will continue to trap mosquitoes to add to the state's research.
    On Wednesday, the Ohio State University Extension is holding a satellite conference on West Nile Virus to update specialists across the state on the virus' current state.
    "We, as the major outreach group in the state, need to educate as many people as we can about this terrible disease," Bill Saville, Ohio State University Extension Office Epidemiologist wrote in an e-mail to all local extension offices.
    The local extension office is inviting local officials to the conference at 2 p.m. in the Central Services Building in Celina.
    The virus, which causes flu-like symptoms in early stages and brain swelling in serious cases, may have originated in Africa and has became widespread in southern Europe and western Asia.
    The disease first appeared in the United States in 1999 in New York City. 
    From 1999 to 2001, there were 149 cases in New York with 16 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    West Nile virus was in every Ohio county in 2002 and resulted in 644 horse cases, 431 human cases and hundreds to thousands of birds that died. Also, 31 people have died from the virus since detection in Ohio, making it the third leading state for deaths, the CDC reports.
    Leading is Illinois, with 54 deaths from the virus, then Michigan with 46.
    The CDC says the virus seems to be permanently established in the Western Hemisphere.
    Beside using insect repellent, residents can protect themselves by making sure mosquito breeding grounds cannot thrive, such as old tires that collect water, old birdbaths or other places water can collect and sit.
    Health officials also suggest highly susceptible individuals (the very old and young) avoid the outdoors during the time when West Nile-carrying mosquitoes are more prevalent, during dusk and dawn.
    Officials suggest spraying clothing and skin with repellents containing permethrin or DEET, because mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. An effective repellent will contain up to 35 percent DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). DEET concentrations greater than 35 percent provide no additional protection.


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