Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It�s been about one month since the West Nile Virus was detected in a dead crow in Aberdeen.

Now the virus has spread throughout most of the state. A majority of the state�s counties have had birds, horses or mosquitoes test positive for the virus. Clay County joined that list on Tuesday.

A total of 50 birds, 120 horses and one sampling of mosquitoes in South Dakota have tested positive.

The most recent, dramatic piece of news from the South Dakota Department of Health Aug. 21 reports the first probable human case of West Nile virus in a 64-year-old individual from Carthage in Miner County.

To only have one person infected with a virus that�s spread throughout most of the heavily populated counties in the state is the good news.

Are we lucky? Or is this due to a well-planned public-health campaign, which since early spring has urged people not to panic?

Or both?

First, let�s look at the national picture. Things aren�t going as well in Louisiana. As of last Monday, 85 people there were diagnosed with the virus and seven had died. Leaders there are seeking federal help and even asking military planes be used to spray pesticides.

Nationwide, there are 145 human cases and eight deaths this year. As of last week, West Nile was in 35 states and Washington.

All of that prompted the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Julie Gerberding, to describe West Nile as an �emerging, infectious disease epidemic.� Her comments came Aug. 11 on CBS TV.

An epidemic? Really? Even media in Louisiana have pointed out tuberculosis � another infectious disease � hit 331 residents in 2000, and that didn�t raise �epidemic� concerns.

So should South Dakotans, who all year have been told common sense, long sleeves and bug repellent should be enough to avoid West Nile, suddenly lock their doors and windows and not go outside until fall?

We say no. Keep doing what you�re doing.

Don�t ignore Gerberding�s point about an epidemic, but put it in the context of �less than 1 percent� and the differences between here and Louisiana.

Ultimately U.S. experts hope to learn more about mosquitoes and West Nile virus as they study data gathered this summer.

In the meantime, South Dakotans should remember that while there are no guarantees, common sense will go a long way toward reducing the already-long odds of contracting West Nile virus.

�The risk of West Nile is low but we do encourage people to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites,� said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the Department of Health.

He offered the following suggestions to reduce the risk of exposure to West Nile:

? Get rid of old tires and other containers where water can accumulate and serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

? Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

? Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in mosquito infested areas.

? Use mosquito repellents containing DEET, making sure to follow the directions on the container.

? Use bug lights and screen doors and windows. Because horses are also at risk for West Nile, Dr. Kightlinger encouraged horse owners to check with their veterinarians for vaccination. Samples from horses suspected of infection with West Nile can be tested at SDSU�s Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory.

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