The Arkansas Department of Health says that a dead blue jay found in the St. Francis County town of Hughes has tested positive for the West Nile Virus.
The blue jay was found on June 22 and taken to the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission. After obtaining a positive test result, the bird was sent to the Lee County Health Unit and the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. for confirmation.
This is the first bird confirmed positive for WNV for 2002. A total of four birds were found to have the WNV in 2001. No human cases of WNV have been reported in Arkansas. Blake Sasse, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission nongame biologist, said the virus could be extremely harmful to animals. "Exotic diseases can have devastating effects on species that have never been exposed to them before and I'm concerned about the long-term impact of West Nile Virus on the 111 species of birds as well as mammals such as bats and chipmunks in which it has been found," Sasse said.
Mosquitoes transmit WNV directly to humans, horses and other animals after feeding on diseased birds that serve as the host animals. When mosquitoes feed on a bird or mammal, they may pick up the virus along with the blood meal. The virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
Not all mosquitoes have a virus in them, but the more mosquito bites one gets, the greater the risk of catching a disease. Most people who get bitten by an infected mosquito do not get sick or only show very mild or no symptoms. Symptoms of West Nile Virus infections typically begin within 14 days following the insect bite and consist of fever, headache, rash, muscle and joint aches, listlessness and possibly encephalitis (inflammation of the brain which is the most dangerous symptom).
Those persons most at risk for getting sick include people with compromised immune systems and the elderly. There is no specific treatment for WNV infection; avoiding mosquitoes is the best prevention.
The Arkansas Department of Health is continuing its surveillance for mosquito-borne viruses in Arkansas and is testing dead crows and blue jays and mosquitoes for the arbovirus responsible for the West Nile Fever. Horses are also tested for West Nile Virus if they show signs of encephalitis. Human blood samples are being taken from patients with viral encephalitis and viral meningitis.
Dr. Tom McChesney, state epidemiologist, says "Arkansans should take freshly (not decomposed, no ants or maggots) dead crows and blue jays to their local health unit, so testing of these birds can be arranged."
Because of the presence of the virus in Arkansas birds and mosquitoes, the public should take the following protective measures:
Make sure all windows and doors have screens, which are in good repair.
Stay indoors when mosquitoes are more active.
When it is necessary to be outdoors, wear protective clothing and use mosquito repellent.
Mosquitoes can breed in any body of water, from small containers such as tires and tin cans, to large bodies of water like lakes and marshes. These breeding places create a variety of mosquito problems. To help stop mosquitoes from breeding, Arkansans should:
Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers.
Remove all discarded tires on your property.
Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
Turn over plastic wading pools and wheel barrows when not in use. Change the water in birdbaths.
Clean vegetation and debris from the edge of ponds.
Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.
Drain water from pool covers.
The health department is continuing to monitor the state with regard to mosquito-borne diseases. For more information on West Nile Virus, visit the health department's Web site at www.healthyarkansas.com.