Local News

State Shifts Focus Of West Nile Virus Efforts To Prevention, Education

Posted June 4, 2003 6:15 a.m. EDT

— State Health Director Leah Devlin issued a public health warning Wednesday, saying that West Nile virus is present in North Carolina and citizens need to protect themselves.

"We know that the West Nile Virus is here," said Devlin. "Extensive bird testing last year made that point, and we know that the virus didn't go away during the winter -- we found it in a chicken flock in Brunswick County earlier this spring and just this week we confirmed its presence in a Macon County crow."

Devlin said citizens can protect themselves from this and other mosquito-borne diseases by applying insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and long pants, staying inside at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most prevalent, and making sure that their houses have tightly screened windows and doors.

In past seasons, as the virus made its way down the eastern seaboard and across the country, the focus on dead birds was logical, Devlin said. "Then we were tracking the virus and seeing where it was going, But, now we know it is here and our focus has changed to one of prevention.

"A positive bird test will confirm what we already know, and that doesn't make a lot of sense from a public health standpoint," she said. "Instead we need to focus our lab resources on testing for potential human cases."

Devlin said the state still wants citizens to

report dead birds

to the local health department or the North Carolina Public Health Pest Management Section.

"We will test birds in some geographical areas to track virus activity," she said. "But, our main emphasis is going to be protection and education. North Carolina citizens should assume that the virus is here and take appropriate measures."

Devlin said state health officials are also concerned about the message that attention on bird testing gives citizens.

"People may believe that because a bird hasn't been found in their county that there is no risk of the virus," she explained. "That's simply not the case. The bottom line is that West Nile virus is here. It is not going away, and we need to handle it accordingly."

In addition to the personal protection measures, Devlin said citizens can eliminate mosquito-breeding sites by:

  • Removing any containers that can hold water
  • Keeping gutters clean and in good repair
  • Repairing leaky outdoor faucets
  • Changing the water in birdbaths and pet bowls at least twice a week