(Hlth) West Nile in Eastern Iowa

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West Nile virus hits eastern Iowa site Expert says the infection is rarely fatal By TONY LEYS Register Staff Writer 09/15/2001 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- West Nile virus has reached Iowa, state health officials said Friday.

Tests on a crow found crippled in the eastern Iowa town of Walcott detected the virus, which has been spreading west since appearing on the East Coast in 1999.

The organism had been found in Wisconsin and Illinois earlier this fall, and Iowa health experts were expecting its arrival here.

"It's not like all of a sudden we should panic," said state epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk.

The virus generally is spread from birds to mosquitoes to humans, and it can damage the brain. Symptoms include muscle weakness, stiff neck, disorientation and convulsions.

Dr. Russell Currier, another state epidemiologist, noted that 10 Americans have become sick from the West Nile virus this year, and one has died. He said elderly people are most likely to have complications, but most people could easily survive an infection. "When you think about the pantheon of things to be anxious about, maybe this shouldn't be on the list," Currier said.

The virus is often carried by birds, especially crows and blue jays. The state health department has been testing carcasses of those birds and monitoring captive chickens for the virus.

Quinlisk said the dead crow found in eastern Iowa could have been infected by a mosquito in Illinois, then flown west. She noted that the mosquito season is almost over in Iowa, which should lessen the danger this year. "It would be very, very, very unlikely that we would have a human case," Quinlisk said.

Still, she said, people should take precautions against mosquitoes in order to protect themselves from the West Nile virus and other illnesses, including encephalitis.

Suggested steps include using mosquito repellent, wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts, avoiding outdoor activities at dusk or dawn and eliminating standing water, where the insects lay their eggs.

Breakthrough An Iowa company has started making the only vaccine to protect horses against the West Nile virus.

APPROVAL: Fort Dodge Animal Health received emergency federal approval last month to sell the vaccine. Rob Daily, who oversees production of horse drugs for the company, said it shipped 250,000 doses of the vaccine last month. The serum costs $20 to $30 per shot, and each horse should get two doses, he said.

HOW IT WORKS: The virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, is more dangerous to horses than to humans. Daily estimated that 40 percent of horses who get sick with it die. Symptoms include dizziness, fever and muscle loss. Eventually the brain swells, which can lead to coma and death.

PEOPLE: Scientists have not developed a vaccine that could protect humans from the disease.

-- suzy (Itssuzy2@aol.com), September 15, 2001

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