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West Nile Virus Detected Earlier This Year In Wisconsin

Zika Cases Also Confirmed Statewide

 Ramón Portellano (CC-BY)

Wisconsin has been recording cases of West Nile virus a bit earlier this year. The disease has been reported in 19 counties so far.

West Nile virus activity typically begins in June. Rebecca Osborn, vector-borne disease epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said they detected the virus in a dead bird a couple weeks earlier than they expect in an average year.

“That doesn’t necessarily translate to additional human cases, but it is something that we noted that we saw early activity this summer,” she said. “That could be partly due to a mild winter, wet weather in the spring and mosquitos becoming active earlier.”

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No infections have been confirmed among people so far although several cases are under investigation. Osborn said they expect more reports later in the summer when mosquitoes are most active.

Cheri Nickell, public health supervisor and health officer with Washburn County, said a dead raven found in Spooner last week tested positive for West Nile virus. Nickell said the county confirmed the virus in two birds last year, but there has never been a case confirmed among people.

However, she warned the virus can often go unnoticed.

“The thing with West Nile is 80 percent of the people who are infected don’t even know they have it,” she said. “They have no symptoms whatsoever.”

In rare cases, Nickell said those infected with the virus can experience high fever, neck stiffness and other symptoms typically associated with meningitis. She said the discoveries of the virus statewide should serve as a reminder for people to play it safe outdoors.

“Wear long sleeves and pants. Avoid dawn and dusk outings because that’s when our mosquitoes are most active. Empty your pet dishes if they’re outside,” she said. “Make sure you wash out your bird baths and water dishes every few days. Empty any standing water in your yard. Use bug spray.”

There have been 238 confirmed or probable infections among people statewide since monitoring began in 2001, according to figures provided by the Department of Health Services.

Last year, the number of such cases ticked up slightly from nine in 2015 to 13 in 2016.

Zika Virus Cases Confirmed

At least four cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed and one probable case has been recorded in Wisconsin so far this year.

Osborn with Wisconsin’s DHS said the outbreak has slowed since last year, but they’re still seeing travel-related cases.

“We don’t have local transmission in Wisconsin, but we’re still seeing cases pop up from travelers,” she said. “We especially want people who are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy to check the CDC website before traveling to make sure that the location where they’re planning to travel to is not affected by Zika. If it is, they should talk to their doctor about pregnancy planning and Zika risk.”

In the confirmed cases, people reported traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America. Wisconsin had 63 confirmed or probable cases of the Zika virus last year.