‘A matter of time’ before West Nile virus flies to Whistler 

Whistler’s chief medical health officer is cautioning the community about their exposure to mosquitoes this summer with the imminent threat of West Nile virus in the province.

"There’s no risk at the present," said Dr. Paul Martiquet of the Vancouver Coast Health Authority.

"We’re just anticipating the risk."

Martiquet said, "it’s just a matter of time" before West Nile virus hits B.C. The life-threatening disease has been steadily moving westwards since it first appeared in North America in 1999. Although B.C. was spared last summer, the disease appeared in both Alberta and Washington State.

Martiquet recently presented his concerns about the disease in a letter to the municipality.

"We are asking for the help of the municipality to get the message out that West Nile virus is a concern in Whistler," he said.

Infected crows carry the virus, which was first discovered along the banks of the Nile River almost 75 years ago.

It is then transmitted to humans through mosquitoes, which bite an infected bird and then bite a human.

As such, Martiquet wants people to limit their chances of being bitten by mosquitoes.

Among his suggestions to remember this summer are:

· wear repellent that contains DEET when outdoors, especially at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes like to bite;

· put screens in windows;

· wear light-coloured or baggy and long sleeved clothing;

· ensure lawns are mowed so the mosquitoes don’t have a resting ground during the hot part of the day and;

· avoid forested areas during the day.

While there are concerns around the health risks of applying DEET to the skin, Martiquet said it’s most effective in repelling mosquitoes.

He recommends products containing 30 per cent DEET for adults and 10 per cent DEET for kids. DEET should not be used on babies less than six months old.

In addition to these precautions Martiquet also suggests decreasing potential mosquito breeding grounds around the home. Places to look out for are areas which can collect stagnant water like:

· empty saucers under flowerpots;

· bird baths and pet dishes;

· clogged rain gutters, and;

· any standing water in things like wading pools, drain tarps, pool covers and trampolines.

"West Nile virus is more of a serious concern than SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Symptom) in terms of its case/fatality ratio," said Martiquet.

Although concerned about the threat of West Nile, Martiquet said it’s not time to panic, rather time to exercise diligence.

"Be cautious when it comes to exposing (yourself) to mosquitoes," he warned.

After writing a letter to the municipality highlighting his concerns, council agreed to post the precautionary steps on the municipality’s Web site at www.whistler.ca.

Municipal park staff have also been asked to report any dead crows in the area and send them into the proper authorities to get tested.

These are not the first steps against the West Nile virus undertaken by the Vancouver Coast Health Authority.

Earlier this year, horses in the Sea to Sky region were inoculated against the disease. There is no inoculation for humans as yet. Also, the VCHA is setting mosquito traps in parks and golf courses in the Lower Mainland so that the insects can be sent to labs for testing.

Ontario is also gearing up for the onslaught of West Nile this year after the virus contributed to killing at least 17 people and made at least 380 others sick in 2002.

The provincial government there has pledged $7 million to kill mosquitoes that spread the virus and every municipality has been given the go-ahead to use larvicides.

This particular tactic is not part of the combat plans for the disease in B.C. for the time being.

"We don’t have the wherewithal to use that product," said Martiquet.

"There are costs involved with using the special bacteria that attacks the mosquitoes and their guts."

In the majority of West Nile cases, most people will not know if they are infected with the virus.

About 20 per cent of those infected will develop mild flu-like symptoms, including fever and headache for about a week or less.

But there are cases, particularly among the young and the old, where the disease can have fatal consequences with the onset of encephalitis, where the brain swells or meningitis, where the brain lining swells.

In the most severe cases, about one per cent of those infected, people will experience sudden fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting, which then turns into confusion, convulsions and then a coma.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has developed a comprehensive provincial strategy to address the West Nile virus.

Up-to-date summaries of crow and mosquito test results will be available at www.bccdc.org throughout the summer.


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