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DHS news release

Sept. 10, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contacts: Mel Kohn, M.D., DHS, (503) 731-4180
Penny Walters, Malheur County Health Dept. (541) 889-7279 xt. 280


Oregon confirms first human case of West Nile Virus

The state public health laboratory has confirmed the first Oregon case of West Nile Virus infection in a Malheur County resident, officials at the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) said today.

"We are glad to say the individual has fully recovered and is doing well," said Mel Kohn, M.D, state epidemiologist at DHS. "Last month, West Nile was detected in the bird and horse populations, so the fact that a person was also infected is not a surprise.

"However, this human case demonstrates that it’s more important than ever to protect yourself from mosquito bites," Kohn said. He lists five key actions people should take:

• 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.

Kohn says that most of the time, people infected with West Nile Virus have no illness or only mild symptoms. "About 20 percent of cases result in a flu-like illness. In one out of 150 cases, however, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain and result in serious illness or even death," says Kohn.

"We are keeping physicians updated and reminding them to be vigilant for patients who have symptoms that could indicate West Nile Virus infection, such as fever, muscle aches and severe headache," Kohn says.

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, according to Kohn.

Since 2002, Oregon physicians have diagnosed several persons with West Nile Virus infection. However, none of them acquired their infections in Oregon until the case reported today.

The first North American case of West Nile Virus infection occurred in New York in 1999. To date, more than 14,000 human cases and 586 deaths from West Nile Virus have been reported in the U.S.