MAY 12, 2004 - Posted at 2:53 p.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, AR - The state Health Department is starting surveillance statewide today for the West Nile virus. Health Department director Fay Boozman said if Arkansans heed warnings to avoid mosquitos this summer, the state could have another mild year. Last year there were 26 human cases of West Nile virus and no human deaths compared to five deaths in 2002.
He urged Arkansans to wear bug repellant, eliminate standing water, wear long sleeves and pants and stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active.
The elderly are at specific risk for the disease and most of the deaths from the virus are in people older than age 70.
In response, the state has several programs to monitor Arkansas for prevalence of the disease. Researchers will be mosquito trapping in 35 counties, test 40 chicken flocks in 29 counties and are asking citizens to turn in any dead blue jays or crows to their county health unit.
West Nile virus occurs when a mosquito bites an infected bird and transmits the disease by biting another mammal. The sickness can range from a mild summer flu to an encephalitis-like illness that can result in death. There is no vaccine or treatment.
The virus has been in the United States since 1999, spreading from the New York area to Florida and westward. During the summer of 2003 only two mainland states, Oregon and Washington, had no instances of West Nile. Nationwide there were 9,858 cases and 262 deaths.