Rounds wants help battling West Nile

Rounds wants help battling West Nile by Susan Smith Since 1999 the West Nile Virus has been crawling across the United States and this year it's hit South Dakota with a vengeance.

Gov. Mike Rounds told members of the media Aug. 28 that the state is moving into a three-week period that holds the highest danger of potential infection.

"Our elderly are truly at risk," Rounds said. "These people can be helped if we can just get the message out."

And that message is: Wear your DEET-containing mosquito spray and pass it around. The mosquitoes that carry West Nile are active in the early morning and evening hours, when many senior citizens and other South Dakotans are in their gardens or doing yard work in an attempt to beat the heat. Rounds urged seniors to alter those habits or take precautions.�

"If you're a senior, stay indoors or at least treat yourself with DEET or wear long sleeves ? but protect yourself from this disease," Rounds said.�

As of Sept. 3, the state reported four deaths and 403 cases of West Nile Virus. Only Colorado and Nebraska have so far reported more cases than South Dakota, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

People over 50 are more susceptible to West Nile Virus encephalitis or inflammation of the brain, although younger people can get it as well. Nationally, 10 percent of people that get the encephalitis die, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

About one in 150 people infected with West Nile will get encephalitis or West Nile meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord) or meningoencephalitis, a combination of both. Symptoms of the three include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis, according to the release.

State epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger cautioned anyone with a severe or unusual headache to see a doctor. Medical professionals

were told to be on the lookout for West Nile symptoms, he said. Since the first of the year the state has tested all blood samples it received for the disease. Currently, the State Health Lab is testing more than 200 human samples per day. Of people donating blood this year, 41 tested positive for West Nile Virus. Those people had no symptoms at the time they donated and that blood was

destroyed, Kightlinger said. People can be infected with West Nile and not know it, he said.

Rounds said it's vital for all South Dakotans to protect themselves and each other � to make sure seniors aren't outside without mosquito repellent. He's also using the tribes to send a strong message to American Indians who also are susceptible to the disease because many Indian people live on West River reservations.

When West Nile first started showing up in the United States in 1999 it was thought of as a swamp disease, Kightlinger said. That hasn't proved to be true. The mosquito that carries the disease thrives in dry conditions like those occurring in the western half of the state. The rate of infections West River is double that of East River counties, Kightlinger said.

"It's a huge paradox," he said.

The mosquito feeds on birds and then goes bites horses and humans. It winters in South Dakota, crawling into tiny spaces to wait out the cold weather. The insect then comes out with the virus in spring.

"That's what happened this year," Kightlinger said.

Rounds said West Nile was one of the first issues he was briefed on when he became governor.

"At that time we knew this year would be a serious year as far as the damage that could be caused by this disease," he said.

Once the disease ravages an area, residents who've been infected develop a lifelong immunity, Kightlinger said. States that had large outbreaks in past years reported few cases so far this summer, but that could be due more to mild weather than a developed immunity.

"We're hopeful, but we don't know enough about this disease to know exactly what it's going to do," Kightlinger said.

In 2002 the state of Illinois reported 884 cases of West Nile Virus in humans. So far this year it reported only two. The first large U.S. occurrence of West Nile was in New York. Scientists learned most of what they know about West Nile from that outbreak. New York has one reported case this year.

South Dakota has taken a proactive approach to helping communities and schools prevent the disease spread. The Department of Health and Cooperative Extension Service co-sponsored community-training sessions on mosquito control in April and May. One in August was broadcast via the Digital Dakota Network to 17 communities.

Rounds encouraged cleanup of standing water or old tires that act as mosquito breeding grounds. Communities have been spraying for mosquitoes and will continue to do so, Rounds said. He urged South Dakotans to be supportive of those efforts. He hasn't yet decided if he'll ask the Legislature for extra money for mosquito control because he said it's always been a local issue.

"The ability to defend ourselves right now is available in a can of DEET just at the local level," he said.

Department of Education Secretary Rick Melmer sent messages to all schools Aug. 26 about the dangers of West Nile. The

Department of Health sent information before that, Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said.

She urged parents to make sure their children are protected. Sports teams and marching bands will be practicing during the high-risk times, Rounds said.

"Let's just flat-out do battle with this for the next three weeks," he said. "Let's make sure that people absolutely are protected and

let's get through this critical time period."

The Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control have information about West Nile on their Web sites at: http://www.state.sd.us/doh/ and www.cdc.gov

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