Health Department logs West Nile cases

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Illness: Los Alamos has been spared, but officials still urge residents to be vigilant

By Tris DeRoma

While no cases of West Nile Virus have been reported in Los Alamos County yet, there have been three cases in the state, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

The most serious case had to do with a 54-year-old man from Doña Ana County, who had to be put into a rehabilitation facility. In Bernalillo County, a 58-year-old woman was hospitalized with meningitis and 32-year-old man from Curry County came down with West Nile Fever.

The Doña Ana County man was hospitalized with meningitis, encephalitis and flaccid paralysis. The other victims have recovered and gone home.

However, given there is a presence in the state, health officials are advising residents that have animals — especially cats, dogs or horses — to make sure they are up-to-date with their shots. West Nile can be spread through these animals.

“People should be getting horses a booster dose of the West Nile vaccine,” said state veterinarian Paul Ettestad. Though Ettestad thought early summer would have been a good time to vaccinate, he said there would be no harm in owners giving their horses the vaccine now. “We are going to have mosquitoes here at least until we experience our first hard frost,” he said.

In a press release, the NMHD also said that at least six horses have come down with the virus this year.
As for humans, Ettestad said there’s a lot residents can do at home to keep the disease from showing up in Los Alamos.

“It’s just a matter of doing the usual things to keep from being bitten by mosquitoes,” he said. I think people should assume that anywhere in the state there are going to be mosquitoes positive with West Nile.” Ettestad’s advice includes:
• Limiting your time outdoors in dusk and dawn hours
• If you do have to go outside, wear long-sleeve shirts and pants
• Use an insect repellent
• Screens on your windows and doors and repair any holes.
• Eliminate any “standing water” in and around your home. That includes replacing your birdbaths weekly with clean water, emptying out water hoses and eliminating puddles.

“Emptying out birdbaths at least once a week will keep the larvae in the water from hatching into adult’s Ettestad said.

This year has seen an actual decrease in the number of cases, thanks to a public awareness of the disease and how it’s transmitted. In 2010 for example, there were 25 cases, including one fatality. Ettestad said the first instance of West Nile in humans came to New Mexico in 2003. In that year, New Mexico had 209 cases of West Nile and four of those cases were fatal.

“And that was because the virus was first being introduced into the population,” said Ettestad, who noted that the virus’ pattern has been to circulate between mosquitoes and birds first before the disease hits critical mass and spills over into other carriers, including humans. Though it’s a complicated and unpredictable process, he said eventually birds whose systems are not familiar with the virus eventually build up immunity to it. In those years, incidents of the virus are low, but when you hit a year when there are many birds that have not had the disease, then cases in humans and animals tend to go up, he said.