West Nile Virus Found In Ohio

A bluejay in northeastern Ohio is the first positive indicator that West Nile virus (WNV) has arrived in Ohio, according to state and local health officials. No horse or human cases have been found. While this is the first time WNV, a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, has been identified in the state, it is not unexpected.

"This is no surprise. We were expecting West Nile to be found in Ohio this summer," said J. Nick Baird, MD, director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). "The State has been preparing for this since last year. The WNV workgroup developed a plan that includes surveillance, public education and mosquito control."

The Ohio Department of Health has established a toll-free WNV information line for general questions from the public at 888/411-4142. The line is staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Questions regarding mosquito control or the reporting of dead crows or blue jays should be made to local health departments.

“The West Nile virus is only spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito, not through contact with birds. It is not spread person-to-person,” Baird said.

The first confirmed bird incidence of WNV in the state was located in southern Lake County in Concord Township. It was confirmed through testing by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Madison, Wisc., marking the farthest west the virus has been identified, said Dr. Robert McLean, chief of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.

"It's not very surprising to see the virus continue its spread along the shores of Lake Erie. Last year, a pool of mosquitoes carrying the virus was identified two counties away in Erie County, Pennsylvania and positive birds were also found in western New York," McLean said, adding the bird was likely infected locally and did not fly to Lake County carrying the virus. "Blue jays are short-distance migrants and they generally stay in the same area during the summer breeding season. So we think the bird was infected nearby."

Primarily a wild bird disease, the virus has affected a small number of people, and human symptoms generally are mild. Even in areas where WNV has been reported, much less than 1% of mosquitoes are infected. Less than 1% of people bitten by an infected mosquito will become severely ill.

West Nile virus has been found in nearly 80 bird species and eight mammal species, McLean said. This summer, the virus has been identified in a Florida man, three horses in Florida and hundreds of birds along the East Coast. Already, the USGS has tested more than 100 birds from Ohio, but this is the first positive test.

"The state's arboviral (mosquito-borne) surveillance system is designed to provide us with the necessary information about the infected areas so we can take the appropriate steps," according to Richard Berry, chair of the state's WNV workgroup and chief of ODH's Vector-Borne Disease Program. “Once the virus is detected, our plan calls for increased surveillance in the immediate area. In the meantime, we encourage the public to follow preventive measures to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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