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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson readies for West Nile virus season

    Tucson readies for West Nile virus season

    With mosquito season approaching, the Tucson City Council and the UA are taking action to minimize spread of the virus and maximize preventative measures.

    The UA is assembling a task force to evaluate the potential for a West Nile virus outbreak, said Elizabeth Willott, a UA lecturer and entomologist. In addition, a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow will explain what the city and county plan to do.

    “”If (citizens) have concerns about the spread of West Nile virus and what they can do as an individual to prevent it, they should come to the meeting,”” said Tina Lee, council aide for Ward 2. “”This year we’re planning ahead.””

    Willott said any part of the city is equally likely to have a West Nile outbreak this year. Mosquitoes in the adult stages have the potential to survive all winter, and they were found across town last season, she said.

    Mosquito-borne West Nile virus was first detected in Arizona in 2003, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

    “”Birds are the reservoirs, or the source of the virus for the mosquitoes,”” said Craig Levy, program manager for ADHS’ Vector-Borne Disease Program.

    The birds, mostly sparrows and finches, can be infected with a high level of the virus for four or five days before they die or get well, Levy said. During that time, mosquitoes bite the birds and bite other birds, animals or humans, spreading the virus.

    Humans do not get West Nile virus directly from birds or other animals.

    “”This can be a serious and life-changing illness,”” Levy said.

    Some people believe that because the virus has been around for several years, they must have been exposed by now and are thus immune. But Levy estimated that less than 2 percent of the population is immune.

    “”Most people are susceptible,”” he said.

    Though 70 to 80 percent of West Nile virus victims show symptoms, some can be extreme, causing meningitis and encephalitis, and even putting people into comas, Levy said.

    There is no vaccine for the virus, according to the ADHS.

    “”Protect yourselves by using repellent and wearing clothes, if you can,”” Willott said.

    Willott also recommended being careful around standing water. If you cannot get rid of it, treat the water by putting a thin film of cooking oil on it or washing it out consistently, she said.

    People should also avoid being outside after dark, Levy said.

    “”The main mosquito bites (occur) between dusk and dawn,”” Willott said. “”This is true on campus.””

    One of the most important things to do to stave off the virus is to make sure you are not contributing to mosquito breeding by neglecting standing water, Levy said.

    “”One of the biggest problems in Arizona is backyard breeding,”” he said.

    Objects left lying in yards such as tires and buckets – anything that can collect water – can accommodate 1,000 mosquitoes in one breeding cycle, he said.

    Pools and Jacuzzis need to be properly taken care of with consistent cleaning and chlorine treatment, he said.

    It is also important for people to be aware of prevention measures and plans of action to reduce the problem, Willott said.

    “”Everybody ought to get to know what a mosquito larva looks like,”” she said.

    Although there have been no cases of West Nile reported this year, there were 47 human cases in Pima County in 2006 and 150 total cases in Arizona, according to the ADHS.

    In 2005, 106 people in Arizona were reported infected, and in 2004, there were 391 cases.

    “”It’s not going away, and it’s not necessarily going down,”” Levy said.

    Surveillance of the virus has begun through trapping and testing mosquitoes, birds and horses in Arizona.

    “”We cannot 100 percent get rid of the problem,”” Levy said.

    Tomorrow’s town hall meeting will take place at the Eastside City Hall, 7575 E. Speedway Blvd.

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