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DHS news release

August 20, 2004

Media contact: Marian Hammond, (503) 378-6169; Anna Richter-Taylor, (503) 378-6496

Governor Kulongoski responds to West Nile virus in Oregon


Governor Kulongoski met with officials from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Department of Human Services, and the Homeland Security Office to discuss the isolated appearances of the West Nile virus in Oregon over the last week.

"This news was not a matter of if -- it was a matter of when," stated Governor Kulongoski. "Oregon is the last State in the continental U.S. to have the virus appear. We have anticipated this to occur and are prepared to respond immediately to help protect the health and safety of the people of Oregon -- and that's exactly what we are doing."

"To date, one bird and three horses in Malheur County and most recently a bird in Jackson County have tested positive for the disease. It has not been detected in the human population," according to Mel Kohn, M.D., State Epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services.

West Nile virus normally lives in birds. It is spread when a mosquito feeds on an infected bird and then bites a human. Birds cannot transmit the disease to humans, nor can it be transmitted through person-to-person contact.

"While human infection is rare, those infected with West Nile Virus usually have no illness or only mild symptoms," said Grant Higginson, M.D., State Public Health Officer. "About 20 percent of cases of those infected have a flu-like illness. In one out of 150 cases, however, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain and result in serious illness." he said.

"It's understandable that people are concerned, but I urge Oregonians not to over-react. There are measures you can take to protect you and your loved ones from mosquito bites," continued the Governor. "I encourage Oregonians to access this information from state and local agencies so you can be informed about the minimal risk of being infected and the simple precautionary measures you can take to minimize this risk even further."

There are five key actions people should take to protect themselves from mosquito bites:

  • Look around your home and property and eliminate all sources of standing water that can support mosquito breeding-for example gutters, birdbaths and old tires;
  • Because mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk, avoid playing or working outside at these times;
  • When outdoors, wear long pants, long sleeve shirts and other protective clothing;
  • Wear insect repellant, preferably one that contains DEET. Follow label directions when using any repellant;
  • Make sure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have tears or holes.
Other parts of Oregon's state government are working on protecting the state from West Nile virus. The Department of Agriculture is encouraging the vaccination of horses and the Parks Department is putting up information at campsites to remind people to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

For more information about West Nile virus, symptoms of the virus and other precautionary measures, see the DHS public health Web site, or call the toll-free West Nile Hotline: (1-866) 703-4636.