West Nile not a serious threat in Eau Claire County

Story by Martha Landry, News Editor

On Aug. 20, a dead crow found in Eau Claire County tested positive for West Nile virus.

Richard Throne, Director and Health Officer at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said a community member alerted the department of the dead crow and the department collected and tested the bird. This is the first bird to test positive in Eau Claire County.

“The crow was identified as result of the ongoing West Nile virus surveillance program that the Department of Health Services activates each year,” Throne said. “The Department of Health Services establishes a dead bird hotline … particularly what we are looking for as far as testing for West Nile are birds that we know are capable of being infected with West Nile virus.”

Crispin Pierce, head of the department of environmental public health, said West Nile virus was first introduced to the United States in 1999, transferring from mosquitoes and birds to humans, but not from humans to other humans.

“It is not permissible, so if a student is bit and is carrying West Nile, there is no danger to other students,” Pierce said.
Symptoms of West Nile virus include mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle ache, rash, and fatigue, Pierce said. But an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the population would be unaware if they were bitten by an infected mosquito. Unless symptoms become severe, seeking medical attention is unnecessary.

Pierce said these numbers are high because most people are healthy enough to fight off the virus with little to no symptoms.

Throne said a bird testing positive for West Nile virus is a common event, and even though a bird has tested positive, no humans have in Eau Claire County.

“We have been lucky that we have not seen West Nile virus transmission between mosquito and humans in Eau Claire County,” Throne said. “We have not had a confirmed active case of West Nile virus reported to us through any of our health care providers or laboratories at this point in time.”

There is no vaccine for West Nile virus, so the best way to remain safe is to protect yourself from potential mosquito bites. However,  that does not mean people need to stay indoors.

Senior Amber Kroening said knowing West Nile is in the county won’t discourage her from being in the outdoors.

“(West Nile virus) is going to be on my mind more (now) that I know it’s in Eau Claire but probably won’t keep me from going outside,” she said. “I’m glad that I know. It’s good to be informed.”

To protect yourself, Pierce and Throne encourage community members to take precautions when being outside.

“Some of the things you can do is limit time spent outside at dawn and dusk … when mosquitoes are most active,” Throne said. “Having the right clothing is important.”

Throne also recommended repairing any damaged screens on their house and regularly emptying containers that could provide mosquitoes enough water to breed.

Pierce attributes the ability of mosquitoes to survive later in the year to wetter winters and more intense rainfalls which give mosquitoes places to breed. He said mosquitoes will die when the weather gets colder.

Pierce also said wearing DEET, an ingredient in most insect repellents, is a smart way to stay safe.

This isn’t the first time an outbreak of West Nile virus has occurred, Pierce said. Five years ago there was an outbreak in the Midwest. Pierce said community members should be comforted by the fact that West Nile is normal and once the cold weather hits, mosquitoes will be gone.