West Nile reported in Cape Girardeau County

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Randy McLain of the Cape Girardeau Public Works Department sprayed a fog of mosquito-killing chemicals as he drove along South Sprigg Street. The spray is used to control the insect population and reduce the spread of West Nile Virus. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Cape Girardeau County's first identification of West Nile virus this year was confirmed Monday in a dead crow found on the grounds of the county's Public Health Center.

The bird was collected last Tuesday and tested positive for the virus at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services lab in Jefferson City, according to Charlotte Craig, director of the county health center.

"We found it here and thought we ought to get it tested," she said. "We mainly did it out of curiosity. We hadn't tested any birds yet this year, and it's better to know early."

Cape Girardeau County is the ninth county in Missouri where the mosquito-borne West Nile virus has been identified this summer, Craig said. No human cases of West Nile infection have been reported in Missouri this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cape Girardeau began spraying for mosquitoes last week, according to Steve Cook, assistant public works director. The city recently bought an ultra-low-volume fogger that sprays the insecticide malathion from the back of a city truck. They have three routes and spray on Monday and Wednesday and the following Monday before starting over on the first route.

"People should expect the fogger will be coming through their neighborhood every 10 days or so," Cook said.

The city sprays from 5 p.m. until about 9 p.m. The insecticide is costly, Cook said, at about $780 for a 55-gallon barrel. The new digital fogger only emits the spray when the vehicle moves at a certain speed and does not spray at lower speeds and stop signs. Cook said the operators know to turn the spray off around people.

Meanwhile, Craig has made what has become an annual summer plea by health officials across the country -- for residents to take action to protect themselves.

"Continue to be cautious," Craig said. "Don't get slack with the bug spray, and pay attention to what time of day you're outside."

Craig urged people to apply insect repellent to exposed skin and clothing, and when weather permits to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside. The CDC recommends products containing DEET, which provides longer-lasting protection. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, so avoid being outdoors during those times if possible, Craig said. Place mosquito netting over infant carriers and make sure windows and door screens are installed or in good condition, she said.

Perhaps most important, she said, is keeping the mosquito population down by keeping your property free of standing water, which provides a breeding ground. Flower pots, pet water dishes, birdbaths, swimming pool covers, buckets and barrels should be emptied at least once a week, she said. Remove discarded tires and other items that can collect water, she said.

Although West Nile can be fatal, 80 percent of people who become infected experience no symptoms. People 50 or over and individuals with weakened immune systems are at greater risk.

Symptoms of West Nile are similar to other illnesses. They can include fever, severe headache, chills and body ache, Craig said. Some people may develop a rash or swollen lymph glands. In more severe cases people may experience nausea, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, a decreased level of consciousness, tremors, lack of coordination, muscle weakness and paralysis. If symptoms result, contact a physician, Craig said.

A non-fatal human case of West Nile was reported here in 2002, she said.

Fruitland veterinarian Dr. Linus Huck said fewer cases have occurred in horses in the past few years because of the emphasis on the West Nile vaccine for equine. So vaccine for humans exists. The first year he treated horses for West Nile, 2002, he recorded 126 cases. Six cases were reported last year, he said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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