June 21, 2004 So far, there are no reported cases of West Nile Virus in the Virgin Islands, but residents should take precautions because scientists have found evidence of the disease in 13 Puerto Rican birds, Government House spokeswoman Rena Roebuck said Monday. The disease is transmitted from birds to humans by mosquitoes.
"We better be very careful," she said. She added that since mosquitoes don't respect neighborhood fences, everyone must do their part to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
The virus first appeared in the United States in 1999. In that year, 62 people became sick with the disease. By 2003, 9,862 cases were reported, with 264 people dying. So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control have recorded 14 cases, with no deaths.
However, the West Nile Virus season is just ramping up for most of the United States, but in tropical places like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it could strike year round.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in 150 people infected with West Nile Virus will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.
Up to 20 percent of the people who become infected will have less severe symptoms. They include fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last just a few days, though even healthy people have been sick for several weeks.
Symptoms develop three to 14 days after a bite; however, about 80 percent of infected people experience no symptoms. The CDC reports the risk of getting sick or dying rises once you're past 50.
Anyone experiencing the West Nile Virus symptoms is urged to visit a doctor or Health Department clinic.
The first line of defense is avoidance. This means wearing mosquito repellent, particularly during the peak mosquito biting hours that run from dusk to dawn. Health officials recommend using a mosquito repellent that contains DEET.
Other strategies for avoidance include covering up, wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks. Mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing, so it helps to spray them with mosquito repellent. Do not spray your skin and then put on protective clothing.
Battery-operated mosquito whacker devices that look like small tennis rackets can also be used to kill mosquitoes.
Mosquito control can be practiced by all residents by getting rid of places where mosquitoes breed. Standing water should be dumped regularly. Residents who keep pet-food dishes in a moat to avoid ants should check under the dish for mosquito larvae. Old tires that may harbor standing water should be disposed of. Larvae could also be found under potted plants where water collects. Short grass and clean gutters are also seen as ways to reduce breeding grounds.
Residents are asked to report dead birds to the Health Department at 774-9000 in St. Thomas and St. John or 773-1311 in St. Croix.
For more information on West Nile Virus, go to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm .
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