West Nile virus found on campus

BY KAREN TEE
For the Daily
Published September 15, 2004

A dead crow found on Observatory Street and East Medical Center
Drive last week has tested positive for the West Nile virus.

It’s the first infected animal found on campus although a
blue jay found within the Ann Arbor city limits also tested
positive for the virus in August.

Four other birds and two horses infected with the disease have
also been found throughout Washtenaw County. Although these
discoveries prove that the West Nile virus is circulating among
Michigan’s bird community, which originally caught the
disease, local authorities say there is no cause for worry.

Laura Bauman, an epidemiologist at Washtenaw County Public
Health, said, “We know that the West Nile virus has been
circulating in the county since the end of June when the first dead
bird was found. However on a positive note, there have been no
reported human cases in Washtenaw County this year.”

The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause
mild illness or severe inflammation of the brain such as meningitis
or encephalitis. The virus is mainly transmitted to humans through
mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds.

Precautions should be taken to prevent mosquito bites, as
infections are still possible through September and October until
the first frost, when the mosquitoes leave for the season.

In fact, Bauman said this is the time to start taking extra
precautions as the mosquitoes that are most efficient in
transmitting the virus are most active from August onwards.

Robert Winfield, director of University Health Services, advised
students to be careful, especially when they are “out at the
time when mosquitoes are out, usually dusk, in rural areas, the Arb
and other moist areas.”

According to a statement released by Diane Brown, spokeswoman
for Facility and Operations, recommended precautions include
wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts, and to use insect repellent
containing DEET, an insect repellent.

Chances of becoming severely ill from any bite are small as few
mosquitoes are infected with the virus even in areas where the
virus is known to exist.

Eighty percent of people who become infected with the West Nile
virus show no symptoms at all, and 20 percent experience mild
flu-like symptoms such as fever and rashes, termed West Nile Fever.
Less than 1 percent of those infected fall severely ill, and the
risk of a severe infection is highest among infants, children and
those older than 50 years.

LSA sophomore Harriet Fung said students should take heed of the
advice to avoid mosquito bites even though nobody has been infected
yet. She lives in Los Angeles, where there was an outbreak of the
virus over the summer.

“I think students should start taking precautions because
we are out in the open all the time,” she said. “But
most probably won’t take notice unless thousands of birds
suddenly drop dead overnight.”

The virus, which originated in Uganda’s made its first
American appearance in New York City in the summer of 1999. The
virus then spread westward, showing up in Michigan three summers
ago.

In 2002, 644 human cases and 51 deaths occurred in Michigan.
Since then, the infection rate in the state has dropped
drastically. This year, there have been five reported cases of
human infection in Michigan, with no deaths.

“While experts are still trying to figure out the pattern
of viral activity, trends show that there is a bigger response to
the virus when it enters a new area in the first or second
year,” Bauman explained. “That is what happened this
year on the West Coast, namely Arizona and California, where there
was a big outbreak of the West Nile virus.”

On campus, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus,
Plant Operations staff treat storm-sewer basins with a larvicide to
prevent larval-stage mosquitoes from emerging as adults.

Brown said, “We strongly urge students to refrain from
touching dead birds with bare hands and to report sightings of dead
crows, ravens and blue jays to the Plant Services.”

The Plant Services hotline is 647-2059. Washtenaw County
residents should report sightings to the county’s West Nile
virus hotline 544-6750.