For Release August 13, 2002

West Nile Virus

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

It came as no surprise to me last week to hear that West Nile Virus had been found in Kansas. What did surprise me was that the first case was not in a bird, but in a horse. The first cases in our neighboring states, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, were all birds. Most of us also suspected that even with a drought, Kansas would get its first case of West Nile Virus in 2002.

So now the question that many people are asking is, "How concerned do I need to be about this?" As far as a human health threat, West Nile Virus is a risk. Nationwide, since West Nile Virus was discovered in 1999, it has caused around 100 human deaths. To help put that into perspective, there were hundreds of death last winter alone from influenza. West Nile Virus is a health risk just as are the dozen or so other insect borne diseases we already have in Kansas.

If you missed it, a horse in Cowley County died last week and tested positive for West Nile Virus. Kansas officials still want to monitor the spread of the disease across the state. It has probably been here all summer, if not since last summer, itís just that this is the first confirmed case.

What do you need to do? Protect yourself from mosquito bites. Use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and long pants, avoid outdoor activities in the peak mosquito times in the late evening and eliminate mosquito breeding habitat in your yard. Use insect repellents containing 25% to 35% DEET. Apply to exposed skin as directed, reapply as directed. Do not overdose yourself and especially not children. Read and follow label directions.

Mosquitoes, especially the ones that we know can carry West Nile, breed in shallow calm water such as old tires and tin cans, pet water, mud puddles, flower pot saucers, bird baths and especially shallow (less than 6 inches) calm water with emerged vegetation. Fogging and mass spraying are not that effective for mosquito control, but eliminating breeding habitat is.

While dogs and cats are not very susceptible to West Nile Virus, horses are. If you own a horse talk with your veterinarian regarding vaccinations. If you have been bitten by a mosquito and start to develop flu like symptoms within 3 to 15 days, get to your doctor immediately. Remember, most people that are infected with West Nile Virus do not become ill. Less than 1% of those infected will develop moderate to severe symptoms and less than 10% of those are at risk of death.

The monitoring program for West Nile Virus is ongoing. Of particular interest are a couple of species of birds. Here are the basic guidelines. 1. Look for recently felled members of the Corvidae family, including bluejays, crows and ravens (not starlings). 2. Don't report birds killed by accident (e.g., road kill). Don't report groups of dead birds. (Mosquitoes don't swarm to attack flocks. En masse bird deaths usually result from some kind of poisoning.) 3. To collect a sample, insert your hand into a plastic bag. Pick up the bird with that plastic-covered hand. Peel the bag inside out off your hand and onto the bird never directly touching the bird, exposing yourself to any parasites or bacteria it may be carrying. 4. Seal or twist-tie the bag. Then insert it into another bag, which you also seal or tie. 5. Get the double-bagged sample into the freezer as soon as possible. It cannot harm frozen foods. 6. Call K-State Research and Extension's West Nile Virus hotline at 1-866-452-7810 (or, in the Manhattan area, at 532-2569). Be prepared to describe the bird and the circumstances under which you found it. The team itself will quickly retrieve qualified samples. 7. For help, consult the Website at or call me at the Extension Office.


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