Health unit on lookout for West Nile virus

With mosquito season underway, Ontario’s medical officers of health have called on all of the province’s 37 health units–including the Northwestern Health Unit–to develop a co-ordinated approach to address the West Nile virus.
There has been no evidence of West Nile virus activity in the region during last year’s mosquito season, nor yet this year, and the health unit is not expecting any for at least the next year.
“Given that there’s been news about the virus in Maclean’s and on television, we just to want to let the public know we’re assessed at ‘low risk’ here,” said Ken Allan, infectious disease control team leader for the health unit.
“However, that doesn’t mean we’re not looking at what’s going on in other areas. We’re part of the provincial network,” he added.
Allan said the health unit has received some inquiries about the West Nile virus.
Environmental staff will be linking with the Ministry of Natural Resources in the event an unusual die-off of birds is detected.
Starting this year, the surveillance of wild birds for West Nile virus infection will be limited to species in the family Corvidae, which includes ravens, crows, blue jays, gray jays, and magpies.
The public is advised to notify the health unit if they find a group of dead birds from any of these species.
Arrangements will be made to collect the birds. The public should not handle the birds themselves.
The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease which the insects get after feeding on the blood of birds carrying the virus. This is the only way in which it’s transmitted.
Most people infected with the virus show no symptoms or only mild, ’flu-like symptoms (fever, headaches, body aches) before recovering. Symptoms can begin three-15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito.
But in rare cases, the virus can cause meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Young children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems are most at risk for severe illness.
The virus is named after the West Nile region of Uganda, where it was first isolated in 1937. Recent outbreaks occurred in 12 U.S. states, France, and Israel last year, New York and Russia in 1999, and Romania in 1996-97.
No activity has yet been documented in Ontario.
More information regarding the virus is available on the health unit’s Web site ( or at its Scott Street office.