Friday, October 10, 2003

Rain, prevention knock down West Nile virus

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio - Drenching rains and floods helped dampen the number of West Nile virus cases in Ohio this year.

Across the state, the number of people with probable and confirmed cases of West Nile virus dropped dramatically - from 441 a year ago to 68 this year.

Deaths attributed to the virus dropped, too - from 31 to just four, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The biggest difference between the last two years has been the weather.

Heavy rains followed by a summer-long drought in 2002 led to perfect breeding conditions last year for mosquitoes that help transmit the disease. They thrive in pools of standing water in flowers pots, bird baths and storm-water catch basins.

But this year the rains never stopped and kept washing away breeding mosquitoes.

"Diseases like West Nile virus seem to have outbreaks during drought years," said Robert Restifo, chief of the health department's vector-borne disease program. "If the rain had stopped in July, there was a lot of water sitting around, but we kept getting more rain."

Mosquitoes that did breed in the floodwaters are a different type and are less efficient carrying the virus.

"We had a lot of mosquitoes, but not a lot of virus," Restifo said.

Less than 1 percent of mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus and fewer than 1 percent of the people bitten by a mosquito will become severely ill. People older than 50 and those with health problems are considered to be most at risk.

The department tested 440,000 mosquitoes this year and 4 percent tested positive for the virus. Last year, it was 26 percent.

But the drop this year does not indicate that it will continue in the future, Restifo said.

"The real key is short-term weather patterns," he said.

Recent cold weather has dramatically decreased mosquito activity.

Along with the weather, Restifo credited increased awareness among the public and the efforts of the state and local health departments.

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