First bird reported this year to have West Nile virus

From Staff Reports

   The Tennessee Department of Health on Monday confirmed the first reported case of West Nile virus found in a bird this year. A crow in Hamilton County tested positive for the virus.
   By the end of summer, 2002, West Nile virus was detected throughout the state with the majority of human cases reported in Shelby County. In 2002, Tennessee reported 56 human cases, 148 cases in horses, and 824 infected birds. Forty-four other states also reported cases of the virus in humans and animals last year.
   This year, West Nile virus activity in birds or horses has been reported in 16 states, including Tennessee. Officials report there have been no human cases in the U.S. yet this year.
Dr. Tim Jones, an epidemiologist for the state Department of Health, says that individuals should contact their local health department if they suspect a dead bird may be infected with West Nile virus.
   "If you see a freshly dead crow or blue jay, contact your local health department to see if the bird should be tested for West Nile virus. Birds that are decomposed cannot be tested," Jones said. "'If the bird does need to be tested, put a clear plastic bag over your hand, pick it up, and then pull the bag over the bird and secure it. Store the bird on ice or in a cool place until the bird can be delivered or picked up."
   West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can occasionally cause an infection of the brain, meningitis or encephalitis, in humans. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds and then transmit the virus to humans and horses through mosquitoe bites.
   Most human infections are mild and include fever, headache, and body aches, which last only a few days. In more severe infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, convulsions, or paralysis may be present. The virus cannot spread from person to person.
   Health officials say West Nile virus usually circulates in an area under favorable environmental conditions for six to eight weeks before it becomes a risk to humans. Dead bird surveillance is used to look for the disease, since blue jays and crows have a high sensitivity to the virus and can provide an early warning of any significant increase in an area.
   The Department of Health recommends that people in Tennessee lower their risk of mosquito-borne disease by taking the following precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites:
* Use a mosquito repellant that contains DEET (the chemical N-N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) and follow the directions on the label.
* If possible, limit outdoor activities between dusk and dawn since this is the time of greatest mosquito activity.
* If you are outside when mosquitoes are prevalent, wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks.
* Eliminate mosquito breeding sites by emptying receptacles that can collect stagnant water around your home.
* Keep windows and doors closed or cover them with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering the house.