The provincial Animal Health Centre lab has confirmed that two dead ravens submitted from Kimberley as part of routine surveillance have tested positive for West Nile virus.
This is the first evidence of West Nile virus activity in the province this year. To date, there have been no human cases reported, no positive mosquito pools identified, and no positives identified by Canadian Blood Services through their screening program.
Interior Health works closely with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and Canadian Blood Services to monitor West Nile virus activity. Surveillance includes screening the blood supply and reporting human and animal cases.
West Nile virus is a disease usually spread between birds by mosquitoes. Some mosquitoes in Canada can spread West Nile virus to humans through mosquito bites.
Mosquitoes can also transmit West Nile virus to horses and occasionally to other animals. Horse owners are advised to contact their veterinarians for information about equine vaccines for West Nile virus.
The risk of getting West Nile virus is highest in the warmer months of the summer, usually from the end of July through August. The risk of becoming seriously ill is low for most people; however, people over the age of 50 and those with compromised immune systems are more at risk.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Most people (70 to 80 per cent) who are infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms.
Some people have mild symptoms that can include fever, headache, body aches, mild rash, and swollen lymph glands. First symptoms usually appear within two to 15 days after infection.
Anyone infected with West Nile virus can be at risk of developing more severe symptoms and health effects. Adults 50 or older and those with underlying conditions or weaker immune systems, however, are at greater risk.
Very few people (fewer than one per cent of people infected with the virus) will develop severe symptoms and health effects. In many of these cases, the infection can affect the central nervous system. Serious symptoms can include rapid onset of severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, nausea and/or vomiting, difficulty swallowing, drowsiness, and confusion. You can also get serious symptoms such as loss of consciousness, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, and paralysis.
In general, recovery can take a week for mild cases. Some people with severe cases could experience a variety of health effects for many months to years after their initial illness. Some severe cases of the disease can be fatal.
There are things everyone can do to reduce the risk of West Nile virus infection. Any activity that prevents mosquitoes from biting or breeding can help to reduce the risk.
Prevent mosquito breeding around your home. Anything that can hold water can be a mosquito breeding area. Identify and remove potential breeding areas on your property: empty saucers under flowerpots; change water in bird baths twice a week; unclog rain gutters; drain tarps, tires, and other debris where rain water may collect; and install a pump in ornamental ponds or stock them with fish. Stagnant backyard pools can be a big source of mosquitoes, and should be maintained regularly to prevent mosquito growth.
Install screens on windows. Screens will help prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors.
Avoid outdoor activities at dusk and dawn. This is the time of day whenmosquitoes that can carry the virus are most active.
Wear protective clothing. If you are in an area with mosquitoes, wear loose fitting, light-coloured clothing, full-length pants, and a long-sleeved shirt.
Use mosquito repellent. Apply mosquito repellent to areas of exposed skin. Check the product label for instructions on proper use. Repellents containing DEET are safe for those over six months of age when used according to the directions on the label. View the HealthLinkBC file on DEET (http://bit.ly/2PGNuET) for guidelines on how frequently to apply repellent. DEET-free products (such as those containing icardin, p-menthane-3, 8-diol /lemon-eucalyptus oil, or soybean oil) are also available, but may not provide as long-lasting protection.
The risk of infection from handling birds is very low; however, you should not use your bare hands to handle wild birds (dead or alive). If you need to move a dead bird, use a shovel to pick it up, place it in double garbage bags, and be careful not to puncture the garbage bags.
If you do not have a shovel, use heavy-duty, leak-proof rubber gloves similar to those used in house cleaning, or use several leak-proof plastic bags as a glove. Turn the plastic bag inside out over your hand, grasp the bird, and then pull the bag out over the bird so the bird is inside it. Be careful not to touch the bird, and keep your hands outside the bag. Handle the bird so its beak or claws do not puncture the gloves or bags.
Make sure you and your clothing do not contact the bird, its blood, or other body fluids or feces. Dispose of the bird according to local bylaws, and always wash your hands after disposal of any dead animal, even if you wear gloves.
Unusual clusters of dead birds can be reported to the BC Interagency Wild Bird Mortality Investigation at 1-866-431-BIRD (2473).