Portage County residents should be especially vigilant against mosquito bites this summer now that West Nile virus has been confirmed in the county, health officials said Tuesday.
A dead crow found May 20 became the first bird this year to test positive for the mosquito-transmitted virus in Portage County, according to the county Health and Human Services office.
West Nile, which sickens about 20 percent of people who contract the virus, is spread to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes acquire the virus by feeding on infected birds.
Last year, the virus was active in 56 counties across the state, said Gary Garske, health officer and public health division coordinator for Portage County. The virus spread to 21 people with confirmed cases in Wisconsin; nine of them were hospitalized and two died.
Portage County had five reported cases of people with West Nile in 2013, but none was confirmed, Garske said, meaning the virus was found but the proper follow-up tests were not completed. The last confirmed case in Portage County was found in 2006.
The disease is active in the county again this year, but Garske said the risk for infection is relatively low. He declined to identify where exactly in Portage County the infected crow was found.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80 percent of people who become infected do not show any symptoms. Others might experience headache, fever, body aches and swollen lymph glands anywhere from three to 14 days after they are bitten. There are no antiviral or vaccine treatments available for the West Nile virus.
“Portage County residents should be aware of (the) West Nile virus and take some simple steps to protect themselves against mosquito bites,” Garske said. “The West Nile virus seems to be here to stay, so the best way to avoid the disease is to reduce exposure to and eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes.”
The health department recommends these specific steps:
• Limit time outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
• Apply insect repellant not just to exposed skin but also clothing.
• Make sure window and door screens are in good repair.
• Properly dispose of waste items that hold water, such as tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, or discarded tires.
• Clean roof gutters and down spouts for proper drainage.
• Turn over wheelbarrows, wading pools, boats and canoes when not in use.
• Change the water in bird baths and pet dishes at least once every three days.
• Clean and chlorinate pools, saunas and hot tubs, and drain water from pool covers.
• Trim tall grass, weeds and vines to deny mosquitoes daylight hiding areas.
• Landscape to prevent puddles on your yard or driveway.
Who to call
The Wisconsin Division of Public Health will continue surveillance for West Nile virus until the end of the mosquito season. To report a sick or dead crow, blue jay or raven, call the Dead Bird Reporting Hotline at 1-800-433-1610.