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First West Nile Virus Case Reported In Arkansas

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is reporting the first human case of West Nile virus infection in Arkansas this year. In Arkansas for 2008 there were 9 confirmed cases in humans and no deaths. Nationally, there were 1,356 reported cases in humans and 44 deaths from West Nile Virus infection in 2008.

Surveillance conducted by ADH has confirmed the presence of West Nile Virus in virtually every county of the state in the years since it was first recorded in Arkansas in 2002. According to James Phillips, M.D., Director of the ADH Infectious Disease Branch, this means that people in all parts of the state should be aware of the presence of the virus.

“Unfortunately, West Nile virus has become endemic in the state,” Phillips said. This means that to protect yourself you should avoid being outside at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. If you have to be outside, wear long-sleeved clothing and protect yourself with a good insect repellent. It’s also a good idea to drain standing water around your home in places where mosquitoes can breed.”

“Very few people bitten by West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes experience anything beyond a day or two of feeling mild flu-like symptoms,” Phillips said. “Fewer than one percent of those bitten by an infected mosquito develop severe illness. Those at greatest risk are the elderly and those with underlying health problems. The surest way to stop the spread of these mosquito-borne diseases is prevention, and every household can take action.”

West Nile virus is transmitted by infected mosquitoes to humans, horses and other animals after feeding on diseased birds, which are the host animals. Symptoms of human West Nile virus infections typically begin within 14 days following the insect bite and consist of fever, muscle and joint aches, listlessness, and in most severe cases, headaches which may indicate encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection; avoiding mosquitoes is the best prevention.

To reduce your risk of contracting the virus, follow these protective measures: Stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active, usually at dusk and dawn. When it is necessary to be outdoors, wear protective clothing and use mosquito repellent that is FDA approved. Use the following precautions when using repellents containing DEET:

* Store out of the reach of children and read all instructions on the label before applying.

* Do not allow young children to apply DEET themselves.

* Do not apply DEET directly to children. Apply to your own hands and then put it on the child, avoiding the child’s face and hands.

* Do not apply repellents to clothing or to skin that is covered by clothing.

* Do not apply repellents in enclosed areas.

* Do not apply directly to your face.

* Wash all treated skin after returning indoors.

If you believe you or your child is having an adverse reaction to a repellent containing DEET, wash the treated area immediately and call your health care provider.

Two additional insect repellents have recently been approved by the EPA and are recommended along with DEET by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for protection against mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus. The first is Picaridin, which is a chemical compound found in many insect repellants popular in Europe, Australia, Asia and Latin America. Evidence shows it works very well and is equally as effective as DEET for personal protection. Picaridin is not to be used on children under the age of three. The second is oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is plant-derived and is as effective as low concentrations of DEET for prevention of mosquito bites. Both products are widely available now and offer good alternatives to products containing DEET. DEET continues to be the most effective choice when long hours of exposure to mosquitoes are anticipated or when rigorous physical activity is planned, which can diminish the presence of the repellant through perspiration. As with any product, follow label directions carefully and use only in the manner described.

Mosquitoes breed in standing water. This includes water in small containers, such as tree holes, cans, and large bodies of water like lakes or marshes. These breeding places create a variety of mosquito problems. To help stop mosquitoes from breeding, Arkansans should:

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* Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers.

* Remove all discarded tires from your property.

* Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.

* Make sure roof gutters drain properly and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.

* Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.

* Change the water in birdbaths.

* Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.

* Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.

* Drain water from pool covers.

* Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property.

* Make sure all windows and doors have screens in good repair.

The Arkansas Department of Health is continuing to monitor the state for West Nile Virus (WNV) in wild birds. Human serum and spinal fluid specimen testing for the virus is ongoing throughout the year. The 2009 WNV surveillance program will include the testing of crows, bluejays, robins, hawks, and owls since these birds have been determined to be major carriers of the virus in wild bird populations. These wild birds may die if infected with the virus, and act as indicators for the presence and spread of the West Nile Virus in our environment. Arkansans are encouraged to assist in this surveillance for this virus by bringing dead crows, bluejays, robins, hawks, and owls to their local health unit for laboratory testing. Arkansans are also encouraged to report die-offs of other wild bird species statewide, and these incidents will be investigated to determine if they might indicate the presence of West Nile Virus or other diseases affecting humans.

Residents should take the following steps when they want to submit a dead crow, blue jay, robin, hawk, or owl to the Department of Health for testing:

* Do not submit decomposed birds for testing. A bird cannot be tested if it is decomposed, mangled, or has ants or maggots on the carcass.

* Avoid bare-hand contact when handling dead birds.

* Use rubber gloves when handling a dead bird. If you do not have gloves, insert your hand into a plastic bag, grasp the bird carefully and invert the bag over the bird. The bag should be tied and then placed inside a second tied bag. Double-bagging prevents cross-contamination of individual birds and leaking containers that may contaminate vehicles and handlers during transportation. If the bird is to be submitted for testing, take the bird to the nearest local health unit.

* If you cannot drop off the bird right away, then keep it cool, but not frozen, until such time as it can be delivered to the local health unit.