Health Canada urges Canadians to protect against West Nile Virus

Health Canada and its partners are reminding Canadians to take active steps to protect themselves from the risk of West Nile Virus.

"Only four in ten Canadians are taking steps to protect themselves against West Nile virus," said Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew. " It is important that more Canadians take precautions against this preventable disease. Health Canada's primary focus for 2004 will be educating Canadians on how to reduce their risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito. In addition Health Canada will continue the vital work in advancing the science of West Nile virus."

The most important step Canadians can take to protect themselves from the virus is to avoid mosquito bites. Health Canada recommends taking the following steps to reduce the risk of infection:

  1. Eliminate as much standing water as you can from around your home and vacation property to reduce potential mosquito breeding grounds.
  2. Drain remaining standing water sources twice a week.
  3. Make sure your screens are in good repair.
  4. Use insect repellant and wear protective clothing when you go outside, especially at dawn and dusk. Be extra vigilant around wooded areas and wetlands.
  5. Choose an insect repellant that contains DEET or other approved ingredients, and follow the product directions carefully to maximize protection. Personal insect repellants containing DEET are safe.

Health Canada and its partners are preparing for the return of West Nile virus this year and are working together to ensure a coordinated, national response to the virus. As in previous years, the national response to the virus focuses on surveillance, research, prevention and public education. Surveillance in most provinces will begin in early May to coincide with mosquito activity.

In 2003, West Nile virus activity was detected in seven Canadian provinces, including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. This year, activity is expected in most, if not all, regions where the virus has been previously detected. However, climate and other factors make it difficult to predict the exact level of activity and the extent of human infections. There is an increased likelihood the virus will spread into British Columbia in 2004 because migratory birds may bring the virus north from active regions such as California, and the virus has also been active in Alberta directly to the east.

There were over 1,300 diagnosed cases of human disease due to West Nile virus in Canada in 2003, with locally-contracted cases in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and travel-related cases in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia and the Yukon. Ten deaths were linked to infection with the virus last year.

Most people who contract West Nile virus infection show mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, infection can cause severe, long-term health complications for people of any age or health status and this risk generally increases with age.

The following fact sheets are available to the general public on the Health Canada website at:

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