Health director: Use caution, but don't fear West Nile
New test results show for the first time that Mahoning County mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- When Richard Setty goes fishing in Canada, he uses an insect repellent containing DEET.
But he still goes out and casts his line.
Despite the large number of mosquitoes and Setty's knowledge that the West Nile virus is thriving in North America, he refuses to walk away from the summer pastime.
Setty, as director of environmental health for the Mahoning County District Board of Health, advises Valley residents not to live in fear -- but to live with caution.
"There's no need to sit huddled in your house with all the doors and windows locked," Setty said. "People should not be overly scared of this situation, but they should be prudent."
Test results from Ohio Department of Health labs show that mosquitoes collected this year in Austintown and Poland townships are, for the first time, infected with the virus.
Of two mosquito pools collected in Poland Township, one had a sample of 14 mosquitoes; the other had one. The Austintown pool contained 60 mosquitoes.
"I cannot say this was unexpected in any way, shape or form," Setty said. "We pretty much knew one of the pools we submitted would come back positive at some point.
"It's just perhaps a matter of time in Ohio before we have a human case."
A person can become infected from the bite of a contaminated mosquito, which generally contracts the disease from a bird. Infected birds pose no risk to humans.
The virus has been detected in birds and people in 34 states and Washington, according to Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
West Nile virus has been found in more than 100 people this year with illnesses reported in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Five people in Louisiana have died.
In Arkansas, officials said they have found the state's first case of the virus in a human. A sample was sent to the CDC Monday for confirmation.
From 1999 through 2001, the CDC received reports of 149 illnesses and 18 deaths from the virus.
No human cases have been reported in Ohio, said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health. This is the first summer that mosquitoes have tested positive here.
The state has evaluated more than 1,100 birds this year, with 373 testing positive.
In Mahoning County this year, health officials have determined that the virus exists and are not actively testing; birds are only tested as they are brought in by concerned residents. As of Friday, five had tested positive, compared with 10 from last year.
In Trumbull County, seven had tested positive, compared to two in 2001. In Columbiana, there were five compared with none last year. Neither Trumbull nor Columbiana have reported West Nile-contaminated mosquitoes.
The virus is carried by the culex pipiens mosquito, also called the northern house mosquito, which prefers to feed on birds, not humans, Setty said. The virus is spread when the mosquito injects an anti-coagulant as it draws blood.
The risk factors
Less than 1 percent of mosquitoes carry the virus, said Weiss. One in 150 people bitten by an infected mosquito will become seriously ill. At greatest risk are people over 50, very young children and people with compromised immune systems, Weiss said.
Though some counties that find infected mosquitoes are spraying, Weiss said such policies are left up to individual health departments. Mahoning County has not started such a plan.
Most people who are infected will not develop symptoms. Weiss suggests that those who feel flush and have been bitten by a mosquito report symptoms to a doctor.
Setty said symptoms will appear three to five days after a bite. Mild reactions resemble the flu and include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. A more severe reaction is encephalitis, which has symptoms including headache, high fever, a stiff neck, being in stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis.
Encephalitis causes inflammation of the brain and has no treatment. Setty said healthy people can fight the disease and recover. Those who have died have generally been very old, very young or those with compromised chronic health conditions, he said.
He does not recommend that people who are in the more at-risk groups take any special precautions other than those tips offered to the general public.
"Am I going to let this thing rule my life?" he said. "No. ... I would not let it rule me."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.