No sign of West Nile virus here yet

FORT FRANCES—After more than a month of monitoring for signs of West Nile virus, no birds submitted to the Northwestern Health Unit for testing have come back positive so far.
Al Mathers, environmental health officer with the health unit, said a few ravens and crows from both the Kenora and Rainy River districts have been sent to the University of Guelph for testing, but none yielded positive test results.
But that doesn’t mean some cases won’t pop up later this summer. And at least one bird was confirmed positive in the Thunder Bay area last month, Mathers added.
Last year, seven specimens turned in to the health unit from the Fort Frances area tested positive. These were the only case-positive specimens in either the Kenora or Rainy River districts.
Mathers said the purpose of the bird collection program is to determine where the virus has manifested in any of the communities in the health unit’s catchment area.
“It just gives us data to use to determine the risk in the area for the transmission of West Nile,” he noted. “Over the years we’ve been doing this, the risk has remained very low.
“That’s why we’re not using any larvacides, no chemical applications. We feel preventative measures are better.
“There’s enough chemicals in our environment without us adding any more,” Mathers reasoned.
This is the fifth year for the provincially-mandated bird surveillance program.
To report a suspiciously dead crow or raven, contact the health unit office here during normal office hours (274-9827) or call the after-hours number (1-807-468-7109) with the following information:
•your name, address, and phone number;
•location of the bird, including the town or municipality and street address (if it is a rural property, please provide as accurate a location description as possible);
•the date the bird was first noticed;
•description of the bird (note its size and colour of the feathers, eyes, and beak);
•if you are aware the bird showed any signs of unusual behaviour before it died;
•physical condition of the bird (if there are any signs of trauma or insect activity); and
•the cause of death, if known.
The bird may be suitable for testing:
•if it has recently died;
•if there are no maggots on it; and
•even if it has signs of injury or trauma.
If the bird is suitable, the health unit will pick it up and send it away for testing at the University of Guelph.
If you are told by the health unit that the bird is not suitable for testing, bury it under at least two feet of earth or place it in two leak-proof bags and discard it in the garbage.
Updates on any positive test results will be provided if or when they occur, Mathers said.
< *c>Mosquito trapping
In related news, Mathers said the provincial campaign to monitor West Nile virus by collecting mosquito samples started this week, with five “mosquito traps” each set up in Fort Frances, Kenora, and Dryden.
Health unit staff in all these areas will use the traps to collect mosquito samples until early September. The purpose is to determine what species of mosquito are most common in the two districts.
This is the fourth year for this campaign.
During the testing, the health unit is expected, if at all possible, to send in at least two mosquitos per week during the 10-week project.
To do the campaign, the health unit uses mosquito traps, which are comprised of a cylinder cooler, dry ice, a black light, fan, netting, and a small plastic bucket in which to collect the specimens.
The bugs are attracted by the carbon dioxide from the dry ice and black light. When they get close enough, they’re sucked into the netting by the fan.
Specimens collected then are sent away in small cups to a private lab in St. Catharines for testing.
In the past, all of these came back negative for the West Nile virus, noted Mathers.
West Nile virus is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected by biting an infected bird.
Crows and ravens are particularly susceptible to the virus and thus serve as an effective early-warning indicator.
The virus is not spread by person-to-person contact, and it cannot be spread directly from bird to human, according to the health unit.
The risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of an infection with West Nile virus is low.
In fact, most people who become infected experience no symptoms or have a very mild illness, with fever, headache, muscle weakness, or body aches, the health unit reported.
Those at increased risk of severe illness are individuals over age 50 and people with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of West Nile virus encephalitis (the rare, serious form of the disease) include severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting, as well as altered levels of consciousness and mental states.
(Fort Frances Daily Bulletin)