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Health Department watching for West Nile Virus

Mosquito season is here and local health officials are on the alert for the West Nile virus.

The Washington State Department of Health has resumed its mosquito and dead bird monitoring. Although no human cases have ever been reported in our state, it was confirmed that the virus was detected in two dead birds and two horses in Washington in 2002.

“We have no predictions this year for West Nile in our state, but it has hit several Western states pretty hard in the past,” said Clarissa Lundeen of the Washington State Department of Health Communications office.

Monitoring began in the spring and will continue through the summer and fall until temperatures get cooler and frost appears in the mornings, Lundeen said.

West Nile virus mainly is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito which contract the virus after feeding on infected birds. The risk of getting West Nile virus is low with people over the age of 50 at the highest risk of serious illness.

State and local health departments have several techniques they use to monitor the virus including trapping and identifying mosquitoes, tracking the number of dead bird reports and collecting certain birds for laboratory testing.

So, far the Kitsap County Health Department has collected 20 dead birds — 17 in May alone. This year the health department mainly will be tracking and collecting dead birds, rather than mosquito trapping.

“We did a lot of mosquito trapping last year, but we will not do too much this year because it is a very expensive endeavor and is not very successful,” said Keith Grellner, assistant director of environmental health services.

Throughout this month the Kitsap County Health Department will begin screening dead birds in order to collect good specimens that will be sent to the lab in Pullman for screening of West Nile virus, but in order for the dead birds to be useful for screening the health department must obtain the bird within 24 hours of the time it died, Grellner said.

There are many ways to keep yourself protected from mosquitoes including making sure windows and doors are tight so that they can’t get in, staying indoors at dawn and dusk when they’re most active and wearing mosquito repellant when needed. There are other ways to keep mosquitoes away from you and your house including emptying anything that holds standing water such as buckets and plastic covers, changing water in birdbaths and wading pools at least twice a week and making sure roof gutters drain properly and are un-clogged.

“The main message we want to get out is that people need to protect themselves. That’s really important,” Grellner said.

For more information call the Department of Health West Nile virus info. line at 1-866-78-VIRUS or visit the Web site at www.doh.wa.gov/WNV.

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