As residents in nearly 20 Indiana counties react to news that the West Nile Virus has started appearing in dead birds and mosquitoes there, Putnam County officials are breathing a sigh of relief.
Dr. Robert Heavin, director of the Putnam County Health Department, said Tuesday that the county has escaped any cases of the mosquito-borne illness thus far this season.
In contrast, state health officials reported this week that there has been an increase in West Nile Virus activity, including one human case in Jackson County and positive test results in mosquitoes and dead birds in 19 additional counties.
Dr. Heavin said the local health department hasn't received any dead birds for testing this year. However, last year the department collected a dead bird that later tested positive for the virus. The bird was collected in the Cloverdale area.
No cases of humans contracting the illness locally have been reported at any time during Dr. Heavin's watch.
According to a health department press release, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that have first bitten an infected bird. A person bitten by an infected mosquito may show symptoms three to 15 days after the bite.
Most human cases of West Nile virus are reported between mid-July and mid-September.
The health department says West Nile usually results in a mild illness known as West Nile fever, which can cause fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands, or a rash.
Dr. Heavin said many healthy adults will experience typical flu-like symptoms that pass in a few days and probably won't even know they contracted the virus.
However, a small number of individuals can develop a more severe form of the disease with encephalitis or meningitis and other neurological syndromes, including flaccid muscle paralysis.
Dr. Heavin said very young children and elderly people are most susceptible to developing severe, and even deadly, forms of the virus. Hospitalization may be required in severe cases of the virus.
The health department recommends the following tips to preventing mosquito bites:
-- Avoid being outdoors during prime mosquito biting times, dusk to dawn, when possible;
-- Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaradin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to clothes and exposed skin; and
-- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants while in areas where mosquitoes are biting.
While local officials are pleased with the fact that the area has remained clear of West Nile so far this year, they aren't letting their guards down.
Dr. Heavin said the health department routinely places mosquito traps throughout the county and sends specimen to the state health department for testing.
"We try to be the sentinel for that sort of thing in the summer," he said.
So far, the tests have come back negative for West Nile.
In the meantime, residents can help prevent mosquitoes from breeding on their property by eliminating standing water in old tires, bird baths, gutters and anything that holds a small amount of water. Mosquitoes breed best in warm, shallow water.
State health officials suggest:
-- Repairing failed septic systems;
-- Drilling holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are left outdoors;
-- Keeping grass cut short and shrubbery trimmed;
-- Disposing of old tires, tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or other unused containers that can hold water;
-- Cleaning clogged roof gutters, particularly if leaves tend to plug up the drains; and
-- Aerating ornamental pools, or stock them with predatory fish.
One thing that has helped Putnam County, Dr. Heavin explained, is the recent string of hot, dry weather.
"Anytime you have these extended periods of dry weather, all their breeding spots dry up," he said. "So that's really helped us out a lot."
The first human case of West Nile Virus was found in a woman in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
An outbreak of the illness affected elderly residents of Israel in 1957 and then it appeared in Egypt and France in the 1960s.
The first West Nile case was reported in North America in 1999 and it has spread from coast to coast. The CDC says the only states not to report any cases of West Nile are Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon.
Indiana's current count for humans contracting West Nile stands at one.