horse in Platte County has died from the nationally publicized mosquito-borne West Nile Virus, causing the phone at the Platte County Health Department to ring a little more often than it normally might.
Though health officials want the public to be aware of the situation, Mary Jo Everhart, director of the county health department, says it’s certainly not a panic situation.
Looking over the statistics pertaining to the virus in her office on Tuesday, she said: “We’re talking really small numbers here. ” Everhart says that even in areas where mosquitoes have the virus—and with the death of the local horse this week it’s safe to say some infected mosquitoes are in Platte County—less than 1% of the local mosquito population is infected, and less than 1% of the people bitten by an infected mosquito will become ill.
Everhart said the affected horse came from a farm located on Winan Road between Platte City and Smithville. She said there is one other horse on the farm, but that horse is not ill.
The affected horse had been healthy up until the time it contracted the virus. Symptoms affected the horse to the point it could no longer stand up, and the animal was put to sleep by a veterinarian in Clay County last Wednesday, Everhart said.
The West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to birds, various animals and on rare occasion humans. Most persons infected with this virus show no symptoms, although occasional infections can result in serious illness and even death.
Because the disease can be transmitted to birds, local health officials are sending in some dead birds for testing at the University of Missouri to see if they test positive for West Nile.
“We are testing birds as folks find a dead bird in their yards,” or other areas, Everhart said.
She said anyone spotting a dead bird on their property can contact the health department at 858-2412, and officials will come collect the animal if homeowners prefer not to handle them.
For proper testing, birds cannot have been dead for an extended period of time, she said.
There is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds. However, persons should avoid barehanded contact with handling any dead animals and use gloves or double plastic bags to discard them.
As of Monday, 87 persons in Missouri had been tested for the disease and none had been positive. Twenty nine test results were pending . There had been 81 positive results found among dead birds in 27 different Missouri counties. There had been 23 positive horses in 12 counties, including the one in Platte County.
Later on Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Health announced the state has its first human case of the virus associated with the state. The affected individual is a 38-year-old Massachusetts resident who visited the St. Louis area July 20-30. She became ill on Aug. 2 after her return to Massachusetts, and that state’s health department informed Missouri health officials of the case.
“While the case will officially be listed as a Massachusetts case because the individual is a Massachusetts resident, the evidence strongly suggests that this individual did contract the virus in Missouri,” said Dr. Howard Pue, chief of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services Section of Communicable Disease Control and Veterinary Public Health.
“Over the past two years we’ve been watching the progression of West Nile Virus in birds and horses across the eastern United States and into Missouri,” Dr. Pue said. “Unfortunately, we knew it was only a matter of time before a person contracted the disease somewhere in the state,” he added.
“We would also expect to receive more reports of people with the virus; nevertheless, our message is still the same: this is not something to panic about, it still is very rare for people to get West Nile Virus, and there are some very simple effective actions people can take to greatly reduce the already extremely low risk of getting the disease,” he added.
Two of the most effective ways to prevent infection are using effective insect repellent if going outside in the morning and evening, and making sure windows and doors are screened.
Repellent should be applied to clothing and exposed skin, and outside activity minimized during dusk and dawn.
It is also wise to eliminate standing water that can serve as mosquito breeding habitat.
Platte City Mayor Dave Brooks said he has instructed police and other city employees to be on the lookout for potential collection areas for standing water, and either eliminate the situation or draw the situation to the attention of residents who can take care of the standing water on their own private property.
“We need to stress to people why it’s important to eliminate those areas of standing water,” Brooks said.
WEST NILE VIRUS FACT SHEET
The Platte County Health Department has offered this question and answer fact sheet pertaining to the West Nile Virus.
What is it? The West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to birds, various animals, and humans. Most persons infected with this virus show no symptoms, although occasional infections can result in serious illness and even death.
What kinds of birds carry the virus? Any wild or domestic bird can be infected with the virus, but some species are particularly susceptible to disease and death from this infection. These species include crows, blue jays, and birds of prey such as hawks, owls, and eagles. However, based on current understanding, it appears the only significant risk to humans is through the bite of an infected mosquito.
Where did West Nile Virus come from? It has been commonly found in humans, birds, and other animals in Africa, Eastern Europe, Western Asia and the Middle East, but until 1999 had not been documented in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. viral strain is most closely related genetically to strains found in the Middle East.
What are the symptoms? Most people infected with this virus do not have any symptoms. Some people experience a mild illness characterized by slight fever, headache, body aches, skin rash, and swollen lymph nodes. More severe illness can include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and is marked by a rapid onset of a high fever, head and body aches, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions and in the most severe cases, death. Medical care should be sought as soon as possible for persons who have symptoms suggesting severe illness. There is no specific treatment for West Nile infection or vaccine to prevent it in humans. Treatment of severe illness includes hospitalization, use of intravenous fluids and nutrition, respiratory support, prevention of secondary infections, and good nursing care. How soon after exposure do symptoms appear? Symptoms usually appear in 3-15 days after exposure.
How do people get it? The virus, like most mosquito-borne viruses, is found in wild and domestic birds. When a mosquito feeds on an infected bird, it can pick up the virus and transmit it to other, non-infected birds. Occasionally, infected mosquitoes will feed on mammals such as horses, dogs, cats and humans, and transmit the virus to them.
If I live in an area where birds or mosquitoes with West Nile Virus have been reported and a mosquito bites me, am I likely to get sick? No, even in areas where mosquitoes carry the virus, very few mosquitoes—much less than 1%—are infected. If the mosquito is infected, less than 1% of the people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill. The chances you will become severely ill from any one mosquito bite are extremely small.
Can I get the virus directly from birds? There is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds. However, persons should avoid barehanded contact when handling any dead animals and use gloves or double plastic bags to discard animals.
How can I discard a dead bird? Place the dead bird in double plastic bags (using gloves or the plastic bags to prevent skin contact) and discard in a garbage can. Birds can also be buried or incinerated, taking care to prevent direct skin contact with the birds.
What will happen if my dog or cat eats an infected bird? There is no evidence that West Nile Virus infection can be acquired by ingestion. Very few dogs and cats have been found to be infected with the West Nile Virus even in those parts of the country where infected mosquitoes are found.
How can I report a sighting of dead birds in my area? Contact the Platte County Health Department at 858-2412, particularly if the dead birds are crows or blue jays. Health officials will determine whether the event should be investigated and whether bird specimens should be submitted to a laboratory for testing.
Can West Nile Virus be spread from person to person? The virus infection is not transmitted from person to person. For example, you can’t get the virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with the disease.