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Health officials ready for arrival of deadly virus

Virus looms on Oregon’s horizon

Earlier this month a raven in northeastern Washington tested positive for the West Nile Virus and heralded the arrival of the mosquito-borne disease into the Northwest.

“It’s just a matter of time before it arrives in Oregon,” Ellen Larsen, Hood River’s lead health official told the Board of County Commissioners on Monday.

She said animals and birds are the prime carriers of the virus that is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito — but no new cases are expected until the next breeding season in the spring.

However, Larsen and staffers are preparing for that possibility by alerting residents that there is no need to panic since they can take simple steps to protect themselves. The local health department plans to kickoff a public awareness campaign prior to the hatching of mosquito larvae. They will use all available media sources to get the word out about the following prevention measures:

* Eliminate all sources of standing water that can support mosquito breeding.

* Because mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, avoid playing or working outside at these times.

* When outdoors, wear long pants, long sleeve shirts and other protective clothing.

* Wear insect repellent, preferably one that contains DEET, the most effective deterrent.

* Make sure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace those with tears and holes.

Larsen said state health officials are increasing the laboratory for testing and plan to closely monitor the progress of the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control the virus has not been detected in Idaho or Nevada, but a Los Angles County resident of California was diagnosed with the illness last month. To date, there have been 2,530 human cases of the virus in 32 states within the nation.

Since the first known case was reported in 1999, 125 people have died after being bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus that can be found in many species of birds, horses and other animals. It does not spread person-to-person or directly from animals to humans but health officials warn people to avoid direct contact with dead animals as a precautionary measure.

Most West Nile infections are mild and the onset begins between five and 15 days after the victim is bitten.

The symptoms are flulike, including a fever, headache and body aches — with the possibility of skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Severe infections cause inflammation of the brain that is marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, seizures and, rarely, death, according to Oregon Public Health Services.’

More information about the West Nile Virus is available on the OPHS website, www.ohd,hr.state.or.us, or by calling the agency at (503) 731-4024.

In other local health news, Larsen told the county board at the Oct. 28 meeting that her employees are also receiving training to ready for any “worst case scenario” that might play out through bioterrorism.

She said federal funding has been made available for the preparedness training and health officials have been on heightened state of alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

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