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Target West Nile by targeting bugs.

Byline: RANDI BJORNSTAD The Register-Guard

It's just a matter of time before the West Nile virus makes its way west to Oregon - it's already been detected in California and Washington - and Lane County health officials hope to enlist the aid of county residents to minimize its toehold here.

Getting rid of mosquito breeding grounds will be a key element in fighting off the West Nile virus threat and everyone in the county can play a role in that effort, said Betsy Meredith, a nursing supervisor in the communicable diseases section of the Lane County Public Health Department.

In fact, they can start right now, Meredith said.

"This time of year, leaves fall in gutters, and many of them get left there until spring," she said. "In March, if they're still there, they'll still be very wet - and that's a habitat mosquitoes will just love."

Any standing water will be a haven for mosquito reproduction come spring, and that includes backyard ponds, fountains, bird baths and wading pools.

People who have those "water features" on their property should monitor them carefully, making sure that they change the water at least every 24 hours to 48 hours to avoid hatching out mosquito larvae, officials said. They also should take care to empty standing water from old tires, unused flower pots and cans, and trim long grass and shrubberies where mosquitoes like to find shelter.

County residents also should stay tuned during the next few months for more helpful hints about mosquito control, Meredith said.

A special task force has been convened to pinpoint local risk factors for mosquitoes that carry the virus and develop a plan to make area residents more aware of the problem so they can help reduce the risk of infection.

The effort to keep West Nile virus out of Lane County will have to clear several hurdles, county spokeswoman Melinda Kletzok said. For example, the county used to have a "vector control" program aimed at eradicating mosquitoes and rats, but voters have declined to support it since the early 1980s.

Some places, such as Jackson County, have set up special tax-supported districts to pay for mosquito control, but that involves significant costs and securing agreement among local, state and federal agencies that have control over wetlands and bodies of water.

In addition, adequate mosquito control usually means applying chemicals and pesticides, which can be a source of controversy in many communities.

Once thought restricted to Africa, Eastern Europe and West Asia, the West Nile virus appeared in the United States in 1999, Kletzok said. In the first 10 months of 2002, 3,419 cases were reported, including 196 fatalities.

Mosquitoes carry the virus from one infected organism to another, usually birds, horses and humans.

Most people who become infected don't know it or experience mild symptoms such as headache, fever, body ache, possible skin rash and swollen lymph glands.

In more severe cases, patients develop inflammation of the brain, or encephalitis, characterized by headache, high fever, stiffness of the neck, disorientation, coma, seizures, and in rare cases, death. People 50 and older run the highest risk of severe illness from the virus.

A new vaccine has proven effective in horses, but not so far for humans.
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Title Annotation:Mosquitoes: The first front in preventing the virus' spread is keeping the bloodsuckers at bay.; Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 18, 2002
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