Archive for Wednesday, August 21, 2002

West Nile virus migrates to Kansas

August 21, 2002

Mike Stonecipher knew it was only a matter of time until the West Nile virus made its way to Kansas.

Stonecipher, who owns the Stoney Meadow Farms horse complex on County Road 2 just outside Basehor, said he has been watching the migration of the West Nile virus for the past year.

"We pretty much knew the West Nile virus had surrounded Kansas," he said.

The West Nile virus originates from Africa, Asia and Europe. It was first found in the United States in 1999 in New York City.

Since then, the virus has been spreading across the country, now reaching 37 states, including Kansas.

The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and is most commonly found in birds, horses and a few other animals.

People infected with the West Nile virus may experience flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, fevers, skin rashes and body aches.

Most of the people who become infected never develop any symptoms. However, in some rare cases, people could develop what is known as West Nile encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can sometimes be fatal.

There is no human vaccine against West Nile encephalitis.

Less than 1 percent of people infected with the West Nile virus will develop severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Of those, anywhere from 3 to 15 percent of people will die.

As of Monday night, the presence of West Nile virus had been confirmed in 15 Kansas counties, according to Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Three cases have been found in Wyandotte County. Yet, officials will not reveal exactly where animals with the virus were discovered.

The virus has been found in dead birds, horses, mules and a group of mosquitoes, she said, but there have been no human cases of the virus in the state thus far.

Dr. Gail Hansen, the deputy state epidemiologist, said that while people should be aware the West Nile virus is out there, there is no reason to panic.

"Can it happen? Yes," she said. "Is it something people should be worrying late at night about? Not really."

While tracking the westward progression of the virus last summer, Hansen was impressed by how quickly it spread from state to state.

Knowing that, Hansen said she is not surprised the virus has already made its way to Kansas. She expects the West Nile virus to reach the West Coast.

"I don't think there's anything we can do to slow it down," she said.

State officials said there are several precautions people can take to help protect themselves from becoming infected with the West Nile virus, such as eliminating areas of stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed, wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants whenever possible, applying insect repellent containing at least 35 percent DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), and making sure windows and doors have screens.

Stoney Meadow Farms boards up to 65 horses at any given time, so Stonecipher said he realized early on it would be important to do what he could to protect the animals.

"We put together a preemptive program," he said. "Once it became obvious it would be in Kansas, we started inoculations."

Each horse was given a shot four months ago and a follow-up shot was administered 30 days later, Stonecipher said.

"And then it's a once-a-year vaccination," he said.

The horses were treated with the Fort Dodge serum, which has yet to receive approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). It is currently allowed under a conditional license.

Although the serum has yet to receive approval, Eudora Animal Clinic veterinarian John Haggard, who treats the horses at Stoney Meadow Farms, said he expects the drug will prove to be highly effective at preventing horses from becoming infected with the West Nile virus.

The FDA is currently monitoring the drug's results, he said.

The Fort Dodge shots cost between $20 and $49.

Some cities are spraying to keep the mosquito population in check, decreasing the chances of a person or animal becoming infected with the virus.

The city of Edwardsville sprayed a few locations last week.

However, the city cannot afford to spray all of Edwardsville.

"It would cost about $65,000," City Administrator Doug Spangler. "It's just too expensive."

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