3 Louisianans diagnosed with West Nile virus Thursday

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, July 12, 2002


West Nile virus cases confirmed  
Dead birds found in Far North Dallas, Richardson; officials spray, try to ease fears

07/12/2002

By SHERRY JACOBSON and RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News




Dallas County's first two cases of West Nile virus were confirmed Thursday in a pair of dead blue jays found in Far North Dallas and Richardson.

Local health officials immediately sought to quell fears, as crews made plans to spray for mosquitoes in residential areas of Dallas and southwest Richardson.

The virus is harbored in birds and spread by mosquitoes to other birds, horses and people.

"We just want citizens to try not to panic," said Elise Dixon, Richardson's assistant health director.

Residents of the Dallas neighborhood planned to meet with health officials Thursday night to try to ease their concerns.

The majority of people infected by West Nile do not get sick, officials said. However, about 1 percent become seriously ill, possibly developing meningitis or encephalitis, swelling of the nervous system or the brain.

The very young and elderly are most at risk of getting sick, which usually occurs three to 12 days after a person is bitten. Medical treatment should be sought for symptoms including fever, headache, joint pain, vomiting, neck stiffness and disorientation.

West Nile has killed 18 people along the East Coast since the virus was first detected in the United States in 1999. This year, three human cases of West Nile virus have been reported.
A 78-year-old man from southeast Louisiana, near the Mississippi border, was the first to receive the diagnosis. A 53-year-old man and a 62-year-old man in Louisiana were found to have the virus, state health officials there reported Thursday.

Officials in Dallas said they would spray for mosquitoes early Friday in residential areas near the 7900 block of La Cosa Drive, where one of the dead birds was found June 28. The other dead bird was found June 27 on Creekdale Drive in Richardson, about four blocks from the Dallas site.

"My concern is with dogs and kids, what the danger there was and what could happen," said Belinda Henington, who lives on La Cosa and found three dead blue jays that she turned over to health officials. "I work in the yard a lot, and I always get mosquito bites."

Dogs and other pets – except horses – are not vulnerable to the virus, experts say.

Dallas crews have sprayed for mosquitoes in nearby storm sewers where there were reports of dead birds, said Roger Jayroe, Dallas vector control chief, who oversees mosquito control efforts. The city is awaiting reports on other dead birds before determining whether more spraying is needed, Mr. Jayroe said.

Eleven dead birds have been sent from Dallas County to a laboratory in Wisconsin for tests that would confirm West Nile infection. The first cases of the virus in Texas were detected in late June in Houston, where several dozen birds have died and one horse has been infected but has not died.

The virus is moving more quickly than expected through Texas, said Skip Oertli, a veterinarian in the state health department's Zoonosis Control Division, which tracks diseases that spread from animals to people.

"With bird migration, it's getting from one point to another in a hurry," he said. "But we don't think all the rain has made a difference."

City and county crews also are testing mosquitoes and flocks of chickens in Dallas County for West Nile. Results have been negative.

Dallas-area residents are being asked to watch for dead blue jays or crows, usually the first sign that the virus has moved into an area. Such dead birds can be reported to city or county health departments, or to the regional office of the Texas Department of Health in Arlington.

Officials throughout the Dallas area have stepped up mosquito surveillance efforts in recent years in response to outbreaks of St. Louis encephalitis, another illness passed from birds to people by mosquitoes. In 1995, five residents of Dallas County died of St. Louis encephalitis in the worst outbreak in the state that year.

"St. Louis encephalitis is a much greater risk to humans than West Nile," said Scott Sawlis, entomologist for the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department. "We don't want anyone to get sick from these diseases, of course. I just wish people wouldn't be so scared."

Staff writer Kristine Hughes contributed to this report.

E-mail sjacobson@dallasnews.com and rloftis@dallasnews.com

WEST NILE STORY  

Where it came from:

West Nile virus is commonly found in Africa, Eastern Europe, West Asia and the Middle East. It was first detected in the United States in 1999.  

Transmission:

The virus is spread through infected mosquitoes.  

Animal infection:

Wild birds can develop severe symptoms and die. Horses are the only domestic animals that appear to be similarly affected.

Human symptoms:

Most people infected with the virus will have no symptoms. Some, however, may have a fever, headache, body aches and swollen lymph nodes. A small number may develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord). Although rare, death can occur.  

Human treatment:

There is no specific treatment for the infection. In a serious case, a person may have to be hospitalized and given supportive treatment along with nursing care.
 
Prevention:

• Stay indoors when mosquitoes are active, at dusk and dawn.
• Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants when outdoors.
• Apply insect repellent containing at least 35 percent DEET sparingly to exposed skin and clothing. Repellents may bother the eyes and mouth, so do not apply them to children's hands.
• It does not appear that a person can get West Nile virus from handling live or dead birds. As a precaution, though, use gloves or double plastic bags when handling dead animals, including birds.
• If you leave your home windows open, make sure they have screens.
• Do not allow water to stagnate in old tires, flowerpots, trashcans, swimming pools, birdbaths, pet bowls or other containers.  
 


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