Minnesota reports first case
Two dead crows confirmed carriers
MINNEAPOLIS -- The westward spread of the West Nile virus has hit Minnesota, where state health officials said it was found in two dead crows.
Tests by the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the virus, state epidemiologist Harry Hull said July 24. One crow was found July 12 in the western Twin Cities suburb of Golden Valley, while the other was located July 9 on the southwestern tip of Mille Lacs Lake near Isle.
"The significance of this for humans here in Minnesota is uncertain but the risk is probably low," Hull said.
In Iowa, six birds in five counties have tested positive for the virus since last September. Two cases were in Scott County and once each in Clinton, Jones, Linn and Johnson counties.
"There's no reason to think the virus is only confined to those five counties," said Kevin Teale of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Mosquitoes spread West Nile from infected birds to humans, who can then develop deadly encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. Humans cannot pass the virus to each other. Symptoms are similar to the flu, including fatigue and fever.
Low risk for humans
The chance of getting bitten by an infected mosquito is extremely low and less than 1 percent of people who are bitten get sick. The elderly and people with chronic illness are the most susceptible, Hull said.
The West Nile virus has now been reported in 33 states. Since its detection in New York City in 1999, more than 150 people have been infected and 18 have died nationwide, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is not the most important health threat we have, but it's important for people to know," said Hull, who cited E. coli bacteria, bioterrorism and meningitis as higher priorities for the department. "This is an event we have been expecting."
Since May, state health officials have tested 130 birds for West Nile. Only the two crows returned positive results so far; 30 other tests are pending, officials said.
Despite the small risk to humans, Hull said people should still take appropriate measures to prevent mosquito bites such as using repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothing. People should also empty any standing water near homes.
Besides birds and humans, horses are the most vulnerable to the virus. More than 700 equine cases of West Nile were reported nationwide in 2001, according to the state health department. Nearly one-third of the cases result in death.
William Hueston, the University of Minnesota's animal health director, said horses appear lethargic and dull when infected. To protect them, he suggests placing them in screened-off stalls at night and giving them a vaccine.
"It's never too late to vaccinate, but people can't procrastinate any longer," Hueston said.
Based on what has happened in other states, Hull said that for every case found there are likely 150 infections. He also emphasized that the virus is likely widespread and not isolated to the communities where it was found.
On the Net:
Centers for Disease Control West Nile Virus page: