50 years, 50 stories


Published Aug. 9, 2002, in The Ledger Independent

The Kentucky Department for Public Health confirmed Thursday a bird submitted from Mason County tested positive for West Nile virus.

The robin, which was sent to the state lab July 30 for testing, is one of 49 that have tested positive in Kentucky, said Tim Stump, director of the Buffalo Trace Health Department.

The bird was found in the Orangeburg area, but that does not mean that residents of that area should be more concerned than residents elsewhere in the county, Stump said.

“It could have come from anywhere in the county. It could have flown in from Lewis County,” he said.

Mason and Menifee counties are the most eastern counties with confirmed bird infections and, along with Mercer County, the newest, according to Dr. Sue Billings of the state Department of Epidemiology. Most of the infected birds have been found in the central part of the state.

Kentucky, she said, has a relatively low level of activity compared to the neighboring state of Ohio, which has had about 300 confirmed bird infections.

The Brown County Health Department said the West Nile virus was recently found in a bird collected in the Clark/Pike township area. A crow was collected July 18 and the Ohio Department of Health confirmed the virus’ presence July 25.

Billings stressed that national reports of human infections and deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi should not concern residents of Kentucky.

“We like to stress we have a much different environment than Louisiana or Mississippi, which have wetlands,” Billings said. “Mosquitoes are a way of life there.”

Kentucky’s drier climate and colder winters reduce mosquito activity here.

The West Nile virus is really a bird disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes, said Billings. Infections in humans and horses are considered “incidental,” she said.

Humans and horses are “dead-end hosts” and cannot transmit the virus, said Billings.

Although it is difficult to wear long sleeves in weather like Kentucky experienced last week, it is one of the best protections against being bitten by mosquitoes, Billings said. Insect repellents containing DEET also serve as protection, said Stump.

“One of the most important things people can do is prevent standing water,” Billings said.

Billings said Americans will have to learn West Nile virus is an infection they are going to have to live with.

“There will be sporadic infections,” she said. But, Billings stressed, the incidence of serious infection and death is very low.

“Most people who become infected won’t even know it,” she said.

A few people will experience flu-like symptoms including low fever, stiffness in joints, headache, rash and swollen lymph-nodes. However, West Nile virus can cause West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Once infected, a person’s body does build an immunity to the virus, said Stump.

West Nile virus is something for health care providers to consider along with all the other diseases that cause flu-like symptoms, he said.

The first confirmed infection in Kentucky was found in a horse in Bourbon County in September. The virus has been confirmed in a total of three horses in the state as of Thursday.