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Updated 3:00 PM May 8, 2003
 

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Precautions to avoid the West Nile Virus

The arrival of warmer weather brings numerous birds, mosquitoes and possibly the West Nile virus. For the third summer health officials have issued warnings about the disease and how to avoid it. At U-M, employees are asked to report dead birds, use personal protective measures and reduce potential mosquito breeding sites.

"We're urging people at U-M to follow the suggestions of the state of Michigan's West Nile Virus Response Plan," says Pam Barker, program manager in the Occupational Safety and Environmental Health Department and member of the Washtenaw County West Nile Virus Task Force. "These include communication, surveillance, personal protection and mosquito control. Additional information can be found on the state's comprehensive Web site at http: //www.michigan.gov/westnilevirus."

The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis or meningitis—an inflammation of the brain—in humans and other animals. Blue jays, crows and ravens appear to be particularly susceptible to the virus. In 2002, 644 human cases and 51 human deaths occurred in Michigan, but no human cases have occurred in Washtenaw County yet, according to the county health department.

Officials will collect and analyze dead birds by ZIP code this year. Dale Hodgson, U-M's pest management specialist, requests students, staff and faculty to contact his department if they observe a dead bird on campus.

"Call Plant Operations Services at (734) 647-2059 to report a dead blue jay, raven or crow on campus property," Hodgson says. "We'll retrieve the bird and send it to the Washtenaw County Health Department's Communicable Disease Program for analysis or disposal."

Community health officials also urge people to eliminate breeding sites for mosquitoes by draining sources of standing water. Empty standing water from flower pots, clogged rain gutters, swimming pool covers, discarded tires, buckets, plastic wading pools and other items that can collect water in which mosquitoes can lay eggs. Bird bath and pet water should be changed daily.

Personal protective measures include avoiding the outdoors in the morning and evening when mosquitoes are active, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside, and applying an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin. It also is important to maintain window and door screening to help keep mosquitoes out of buildings.

Community health professionals have noted the chances that anyone will become severely ill from any one mosquito bite are extremely small. Even in areas where mosquitoes carry the virus, fewer than 1 percent of the insects are infected, and fewer than 1 percent of people who are bitten and become infected with the virus will develop severe illness.

Additional information regarding the symptoms of infection, disease monitoring and treatment can be found on Web sites for the University Health Service at http://www.uhs.umich.edu/uhs/whatsup/west_nile_virus.html, the Washtenaw County Health Department at http://www.ewashtenaw.org/ and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov.

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