New Hampshire begins statewide West Nile virus detection activities

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) has begun statewide West Nile virus detection activities in partnership with other state agencies, under the auspices of the State's West Nile Virus Task Force. The public is asked to report sightings of dead crows or blue jays to their local animal control officer, health officer, health department, or, in their absence, the West Nile information line. 

Questions about West Nile virus or bird surveillance can be answered by calling the toll-free West Nile virus information line at 866-273-NILE (6453), between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Citizens living in municipalities without a designated animal control officer or health officer should call the information line. After normal business hours, citizens can leave a voice message that will be answered the next business day. 

West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. For humans the risk of contracting the infection is low and in the overwhelming majority of cases, there are no symptoms or just mild, flu-like symptoms. If illness does occur, it happens within 3 to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

The elderly are considered at higher risk of more severe disease, the symptoms of which can include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness, and muscle weakness. In extremely rare cases, the disease has caused death. 

During 2003, West Nile virus spread throughout the United States, with only four states not affected. Here in New Hampshire, three human cases were identified, 213 birds tested positive for the virus, and there was one positive equine case. Additionally, six mosquito pools were reported as positive. In contrast, in 2002, there were, 119 positive birds, 33 mosquito pools, and no human or equine cases. 

"West Nile virus is here to stay," said Dr. Jose Montero, Chief of the DPHS Bureau of Disease Control. "The CDC now considers it endemic to the United States, therefore we want to emphasize protection since the virus is not going to go away. The disease is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, so people should try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and eliminate places and opportunities for them to breed." 

Preventive measures include draining bird baths, removing old tires, tipping over wading pools when not in use, as well as other items outside that hold water, using an effective insect repellent such as those that contain DEET and applying it in accordance with manufacturer's instructions on the label, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors (especially at dawn, dusk, and during the evening), and checking doors and windows to ensure screens are in place and in good condition to prevent mosquitoes from entering the home. 

"Consistent with many other New England states, we will not be testing as many birds or mosquitoes as in previous years. In the past those activities were an essential element of our surveillance strategy for West Nile virus, but this virus is already endemic in our state," said Dr. Montero. "We still want the public to notify us of dead crow sightings, and then they will be advised to dispose of them properly. Education about personal prevention measures and reduction of mosquito breeding opportunities are the most important elements of our program and will continue to be for the years to come."

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