West Nile is cause for concern, not panic

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

A poll -- on the Southeast Missourian's Web site, semissourian.com -- with respectable participation indicates that most people are taking the West Nile virus outbreak in stride.

The results, compiled Sunday, showed that 64 percent of the 204 people who participated in the poll believe West Nile is no more of a danger than other diseases, aren't worried about it at all, are worried primarily about animals or have no opinion.

From what we know about the disease, those folks have a balanced view.

We heard about West Nile invading our state last year, but that was in St. Louis. Almost two weeks ago, a local epidemiologist and arbovirologist found the disease in local mosquitoes. We're fortunate to have a scientist of Dr. Christina Frazier's caliber at Southeast Missouri State University, one with the fortitude to patiently trap mosquitoes from this area, grind them up and apply an enzyme that reveals the West Nile virus.

In part, because of her, horse owners knew what was going on when their animals began exhibiting the signs of infection: grinding teeth, droopy lips, wobbly legs. It has become an epidemic in Cape Girardeau-area horses. At least two horses were dead by Monday, and many others were sick.

The good news is that there's a vaccine, and some horses are recovering. Horse owners are vaccinating their stock and spraying them down with insecticide.

Back to the poll on semissourian.com. Yes, most people didn't seem to be worried about human infection, but 36 percent said they "worry about the people it could harm."

The concern is valid: West Nile claimed its first human victim in Missouri Aug. 7, a 75-year-old St. Louis woman. Others in Louisiana and Illinois are dead too.

But it's important for everyone to keep the virus in perspective.

Fewer than one in 10 people bitten by an infected mosquito ever show symptoms of the disease. And there are ways to prevent being that one, the experts say.

Here are some tips: Cover up at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. Spray yourself down with insecticides containing DEET, found in the "deep woods" insecticide offerings. Clean up anything that will hold water for more than five days, like bird baths and flowerpot holders.

There's no need to go to the doctor unless you've got a fever and body aches and have been bitten by a mosquito recently.

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