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West Nile virus confirmed in Sharp

Thursday, November 7, 2002

Sharp County became the 58th county in Arkansas in which an animal has tested positive for the West Nile virus the last week in October, and a 59th was added a few days later.

"It's making its rounds," said James Tanner, Hometown Health leader with the Sharp and Fulton county health units. A crow found in Cherokee Village tested positive for the virus, he said.

To date there have been 20 confirmed cases of the virus in humans in Arkansas as well as several cases in horses and around 400 in birds, according to Tanner.

Next year may be worse.

"We're in the second year," Tanner said "Usually the second and third years are the worst." He said Louisiana, in its third year, has been hit harder than Arkansas.

Tanner said the cold weather should reduce the number of cases of the mosquito-borne virus, but he urges people to continue to make sure there is no standing water in buckets, tires and other objects on their property were mosquitoes can lay their eggs.

There have been no confirmed deaths in humans in Arkansas. But health officials are awaiting the results of testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on an Independence County man whose death is suspected to be from the virus. Independence County borders Sharp County to the south.

Tanner said some zoos in the state have lost raptors to the virus and are isolating their hawks and falcons. Although any animal can be a carrier of the virus, humans, horses and birds -- especially blue jays and crows -- are more susceptible, he said.

"Jays and crows -- I guess that's a good two to pick," he said of the two species generally regarded as nuisances.

Tanner said the virus is believed to be spread only by blood meal from mosquitoes, but persons should still exercise caution in handling dead birds. He said about a dozen birds have been taken to the Sharp County Health Unit, but the state Department of Health is no longer accepting dead birds.

Tanner said to date no cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Fulton or Izard counties. But there have been confirmed cases in Sharp, Independence, Lawrence and Randolph counties.

The West Nile virus was first reported in the United States in the summer of 1999, when the mosquito-borne disease caused encephalitis in 62 people and numerous horses in the New York City area. Seven humans and over 10 horses infected with the virus died of encephalitis. Prior to that, West Nile virus had never before reported in the Western hemisphere. The virus had spread to 27 states and infected more than 100 persons by October 2001.

Symptoms of the virus usually occur three to 15 days after the bite of an infected mosquito. Most persons infected with the virus will either have no symptoms or experience a mild flu-like illness with a fever, headache and body aches before they recover. But in some persons, particularly the elderly, the virus can cause encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. Symptoms of encephalitis may include high fever, severe headache, nausea, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, paralysis, disorientation, convulsions, coma and, rarely, death. Less than 1 percent of humans infected with West Nile virus will develop serious illness.

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