West Nile Virus Continues to Spread

Preliminary tests suggest that West Nile virus might be living in Canada. The virus that first appeared in the Western Hemisphere in 1999 was detected recently in a bird in Louisiana and in humans in Georgia and New York. Georgia also had its first equine WNV case, bringing the U.S. equine case total to 36 confirmed this year.

Canada’s Windsor Star reported that a crow collected Aug. 8 in Windsor, Ontario, was sent to Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Centre labs in Guelph, where the virus was confirmed. According to Reuters, a blue jay found in Oakville, 15 miles west of Toronto, is also being examined after early tests showed signs of WNV. A Health Canada spokeswoman said that a second battery of tests are being performed on the birds to verify their status.

A 30-year-old mare which died in Thomas County, Ga., in early August was confirmed as positive for WNV on Aug. 15. Thirty-five equine cases have been confirmed in Florida, and three were awaiting confirmation as of Aug. 20.

The first equine WNV vaccine was approved and released in early August, and areas that have WNV-positive birds or horses have been administering the product to protect vulnerable horses. “We received 14,000 doses, enough to vaccinate 7,000 horses,” said William Jeter, DVM, Diagnostic Veterinary Manager for Equine Programs in the Florida Division of Animal Industry. “Veterinary practitioners started vaccinating on Aug. 10. Another 5,000 does were released to us by Fort Dodge (Animal Health, the company producing the vaccine), and have gone to our secondary counties (in the Western panhandle of the state) where we’ve found positive WNV birds.”

Additionally, WNV has claimed this year’s first human victim. A 71-year-old woman from downtown Atlanta, Ga., died from the disease on Aug. 11. In recent weeks, two victims in North Florida and one in Staten Island, N.Y., were hospitalized with WNV, but survived. Nationwide, nine people have died of WNV since 1999. The virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito and is harbored by birds. It killed 36% of its diagnosed equine victims in 1999, and 38% in 2000.

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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