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West Nile Virus


Mosquito prevention is the key to stopping the spread of West Nile. Dump anything that can hold stagnant standing water in your yard - old tires, kiddie pools, etc. It doesn't take water very deep for mosquitos to hatch. Goldfish love to eat mosquitos - if you have a pond with no fish it's probably time you put some in there. There are also products such as mosquito dunks (bacillus thuricide based) or Pre-Strike (methoprene based) that you can put in ponds and other standing water that won't hurt animals or pond plants, just mosquitos. Please be very cautious that what you use in the water isn't toxic and won't contaminate other water and cause more of a problem than mosquitos.

Attracting bats to your property is a great way to decrease the mosquito population in an environmentally friendly way. A bat will eat 1/3 to 1/2 its total body weight in a night - up to 3000 mosquitos. If that's not enough to get over any creepy thoughts you have about bats I don't know what is. You can find instructions for building bat houses at or if you don't want to build one, they are available for sale at most garden centers by the wild bird houses and supplies.

Dogs and cats rarely become infected with West Nile virus but horses are at a high risk. Horses need to be vaccinated as soon as possible and it is important to have a veterinarian give the vaccine. You can save a little money if you do it yourself, but you'll be kicking yourself if something happens to your horse.

In order for a human or animal to catch West Nile, a mosquito has to bite an infected bird, contract West Nile and then bite you or your pet. Not all mosquitos who bite an infected bird contract West Nile. Not all birds have West Nile - not all mosquitos have West Nile, so the chances of contracting West Nile are slim. Stock up on mosquito repellent. There are natural repellents that can be used on your pets as well. And lastly, hope for a good hard freeze this fall to cut down on the numbers of mosquitos.

Information taken off the Department of Public Health's website:

West Nile virus (WNV) is an "arbovirus" that causes encephalitis (inflammation to the brain). Blood-feeding insects such as mosquitoes transmit these viruses. Mosquitoes draw the virus from infected birds and transmit it to animals and humans through bites. West Nile viral encephalitis develops in animals and humans when the virus multiplies and crosses the blood brain barrier. Most infections with WNV have been identified in wild birds, but the virus can also infect horses, dogs, cats, domestic rabbits, domestic birds and humans. The WNV, which originated in Uganda, was discovered in North America in 1999. Since that time the West Nile Viral Encephalitis has spread to 37 states and the Distinct of Columbia.

2. What is the Risk of Contracting West Nile Virus?

The risk of becoming ill with WNV from a single mosquito bite is extremely low. Transmission of WNV is almost exclusively by mosquitoes that pick up the virus from infected birds, and then bite another animal or person. In all the intensive research and surveys that have been done, there are no reports of transmission from person to person, or from animals directly to humans, or another animal.

For humans, the risk associated with WNV is highest in those over 50 years of age. It is unknown if immunocompromised persons are at increased risk for WNV disease. In areas where mosquitoes carry the virus, fewer than 1% of the people bitten, and subsequently, infected become severely ill. As of August 9, 2002 this year out of 135 reported cases nationwide only seven deaths have been recorded.

Dogs or cats become infected the same way humans become infected -by the bite of infectious mosquitoes. The virus is located in the mosquito's salivary glands. During blood feeding, the virus is injected into the animal. The virus then multiplies and may cause illness. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds, which may circulate the virus in their blood for a few days. It is possible that eating dead infected animals such as birds could infect dogs and cats, but this is unproven.

WNV affects horses more often than other domestic animals. Many horses infected with WNV do not develop any illness, but of the 85 that did become ill in the 1999 or 2000 outbreak, 32 (38 percent) died or were euthanized. As of July 25, there were 47 confirmed cases of WNV in horses in 2002. Of the 47, seventeen either died or were euthanized.

Other animals including wild birds infected with WNV in the United States are most often found dead; therefore descriptions of clinical signs in wild birds are not readily available. Clinical signs associated with West Nile virus infection in dogs, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, domestic rabbits, and domestic birds are not well described. It appears, however, that, although they may be infected, many of these latter species may not develop clinical signs of disease.

3. Identifying and Treating West Nile Virus?

The WNV infections in humans are relatively mild with flu like symptoms including fever, headache, body aches, and sometimes swollen glands or rash. Severe signs include high fever, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, and convulsions. Although no cases have been reported among dogs and cats, the disease can occur. If so, one could assume at least some symptoms are similar to those in people.

West Nile Virus has been reported only in the eastern half of the U.S. and is expected to spread to the northwest. Fortunately, with this type of virus, birds, horses, humans and other animals quickly develop immunity and the infection rate is expected to peak and then decrease to a persistent, but low level.

Horses are definitely susceptible. For horses the most common sign is weakness. Weakness may be indicated by a widened stance, stumbling, leaning to one side and toe dragging. In extreme cases paralysis may follow. Approximately 40% of cases of WNV encephalitis in horses proved fatal during the 1999 outbreak in the U.S. Other livestock and poultry do not commonly show wellness if infected with WNV. Diagnosis of WNV encephalitis is based on a history of exposure, clinical signs and results of diagnostic blood tests. As for all viral diseases, treatment consists of providing support while the affected individual's immune system responds to the infection.

4. Preventing West Nile Virus?

Given that mosquitoes are associated with WNV transmission, the key to preventing or controlling future outbreaks of WNV among horses and other animals is to control mosquito populations and to prevent horses from being exposed to any adult mosquitoes that may be present. Because pets could be infected the same way people are, the key to prevention is to prevent mosquito bites. Products to prevent fleas and ticks have no effect on mosquitoes. There are over the counter products, however, available to repel mosquitoes. Similar recommendations would apply for other pets, livestock, or poultry should illness due to WNV in those types of animals come to be commonly recognized.

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