September 5, 2008 in City

West Nile ‘very active’

Four dead birds had virus, officials say
By Laura Kate Zaichkin and Franny White Tri-City Herald
 

Four dead birds from Benton and Yakima counties have tested positive for West Nile virus, the first positive birds tested in the state this year.

The infected bird found in Prosser is the first West Nile virus-positive bird found in the county since the Benton-Franklin Health District began monitoring West Nile in 2002, according to the health district.

Along with the two crows and two magpies collected last month for testing, the virus has been detected in 12 horses and 22 mosquito pools in Benton, Yakima and Grant counties this year, the state Department of Health said.

“Testing for West Nile virus in dead birds, mosquitoes and horses shows where the disease is active,” said Liz Dykstra, a state public health entomologist. “With the results we’re seeing this year, it’s clear that West Nile virus is very active in the middle of our state.”

The virus is primarily a bird disease. Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on infected birds and can pass the virus to people, horses or other animals.

“Now more than ever, people should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and limit mosquito habitats around their homes,” said Gregg Grunenfelder, the assistant secretary for the state Department of Health’s environmental health division.

The Benton-Franklin Health District suggests getting rid of old tires and other containers where water can accumulate and serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

It also suggests avoiding outdoor activities at dusk and dawn, wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants when in mosquito-infested areas, using mosquito repellents with DEET, and putting screens on doors and windows.

“Although the weather is cooling, this is not the time to stop taking precautions against mosquito bites,” said Susan Shelton, an environmental health specialist with the district. “We know the virus is active in birds and mosquitoes in our area and the risk of West Nile infection in people traditionally increases in August and September.”

West Nile virus is a potentially serious illness for people and can cause inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. However, about 80 percent of people infected with the virus don’t show symptoms, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health district encourages people to report dead birds, especially crows, magpies and ravens.

Birds can be reported by calling (509) 460-HAWK or at www.bfhd.wa.gov/wnv.


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