West Nile virus threat small: health unit – No confirmed cases in district so far

While the presence of the West Nile virus has been confirmed in Winnipeg, the Northwestern Health Unit is urging people not to panic about it being in our area.
Manitoba officials confirmed this week that a crow found dead in Winnipeg on July 7 had tested positive for the West Nile virus. Since then, at least 45 dead birds from around the city have been collected for testing.
Public health inspector Brian Norris said the health unit already is participating in a province-wide monitoring system for the virus.
“We’ve been monitoring for it in Ontario for a couple of years,” he said yesterday. “In our area, we send away dead crows, ravens, and blue jays to be tested.
“There haven’t been any confirmed cases [of West Nile virus] in our area yet,” he added.
West Nile is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. The mosquitos themselves get the virus by biting an infected bird and, in rare cases, pass it on to humans.
The presence of dead birds such as crows, ravens, and blue jays often is the first indication the West Nile virus is in the area.
But Norris urged the public not to panic about the possibility of it being in the region.
“Only certain species of mosquitos carry the virus and only some of them can pass it on,” he noted. “The risk [to humans] is not that great. It’s like one percent of one percent.”
According to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Web site, there have been 10 confirmed cases of dead birds with the West Nile virus in the province since May.
All of the confirmed cases have been in southern Ontario.
Since it was first found in Canada last summer, there have been no reported cases of the West Nile virus or symptoms in humans.
For the most part, Norris said the public is unclear how it spreads.
“They know it comes from mosquitos and they know it has something to do with dead birds so when they see a dead bird, they call us,” he remarked.
While the health unit is willing to pick up birds to be tested for the virus, only birds in the raven family—such as crows and blue jays—are carriers of the virus and only those in relatively good condition can be tested.
“If it has sat for three to four days in the hot sun, then it has already decayed,” Norris said.
People also are asked not to be alarmed if they find a deceased bird on the ground. “Birds do die in the environment, it’s natural,” Norris said.