Kitsap officials on lookout for West Nile virus

The sometimes-deadly but still extremely rare West Nile virus is working its way to the West Coast and could arrive here within a year, according to information released by Kitsap County Health officials.

So far the mosquito-borne virus hasn’t been detected in Washington District, but with the disease showing up in Colorado and Wyoming, the district is taking part in a nationwide effort to track its spread.

Health district inspectors are collecting mosquito samples every two weeks in Bremerton, Port Orchard and Poulsbo using traps approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state Department of Health examines the samples for the disease.

And while scientists play their part in tracking the West Nile virus, health district officials are calling on residents to play a role in the monitoring process by reporting dead birds to the district.

The increasing numbers of dead birds in a given community could mean that the West Nile virus is circulating between the birds and local mosquitoes.

Although birds — particularly crows and jays — can become infected with the virus and grow ill or even die, most of them survive.

Health district officials are asking residents to not handle a dead bird or bring the bird into the health district itself.

District staff will be dispatched to handle the bird if it’s determined to be suitable enough for testing.

Only recently deceased birds can be considered for the detection project.

The West Nile virus, which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, was first detected in the United States three years ago.

Infected mosquitoes can spread the disease to people, horses and many types of birds and other types of animals.

The virus is not spread from person to person or from an animal or bird to a person. Mosquitoes contract the virus by feeding on an infected bird.

The virus isn’t carried by ticks or other insects either.

Most people who become infected with the virus will either have no symptoms or only mild ones, but the virus can cause encephalitis (brain inflammation) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) in some people.

Even in communities where the virus is circulating, very few mosquitoes are actually infected with the virus and less than 1 percent of the residents who are bitten by an infected mosquito become severely ill.

Most commonly, those with symptoms are age 50 or older.

Twenty percent of the infected people experience mild flu symptoms associated with West Nile, and just one in 150 are diagnosed with encephalitis or meningitis.

To report an increasing number of dead birds, call one of two environmental staff members; Dean Abbott at 337-5274 or Keith Grellner at 337-5284.

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