Wednesday, August 9, 2006

West Nile suspected in several Idaho deaths

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Department of Health & Welfare issued a warning regarding West Nile virus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever after three deaths in Southern Idaho were attributed to the diseases.

Lab tests confirmed that 12-year-old Massachusetts boy Rocco Magliozzi died on July 28 after being exposed to the diseases while at a camp in Gooding. Two other Idaho residents, a man from Elmore County and a woman from Lincoln County, also died recently after contacting West Nile virus, the state agency reported.

West Nile can infect all ages but is "more serious in people over the age of 50," said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, Idaho deputy state epidemiologist.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever is spread by ticks. Symptoms include high fever, headache and muscle aches.

West Nile was first discovered in New York state in 1999 and has gradually spread across the country. More than 50 Idaho residents have tested positive for West Nile this year.

"West Nile has become part of the ecosystem," Tengelsen said. "If you see mosquitoes, you should take precautions to avoid their bite."

Simple precautions can help. Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors, replace and repair screens in homes, use insect repellent, reduce and avoid standing water, and report dead birds to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Though West Nile virus doesn't appear to affect most animals, it can cause severe illness in horses and certain species of birds.

On July 29, a veterinarian diagnosed one case of West Nile in a mule that lived at a home on the border of Camas and Blaine counties. The mule died later that day. As of last week, 40 cases of West Nile were confirmed in horses in Idaho.

All horse, donkey and mule owners are urged to vaccinate their equine animals. An indicator of the illness is the inability to stand or walk.

West Nile is not contagious between people or horses, only by mosquitoes.

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