One day after saying there was no trace of West Nile in Iowa, officials with the state Department of Public Health called a news conference today to say five dead birds have tested positive for the disease. Department director Mary Mincer Hansen says last year the virus sickened 141 Iowans and killed six people. Last year West Nile was found in nearly every county in Iowa, in either humans, horses, or birds, and in 2002, it was confirmed in every single county. Doctor Hansen says nationwide, there’ve already been fifteen cases of West Nile confirmed this year, including a case in Nebraska and one in South Dakota. State epidemiologist Doctor Patricia Quinlisk said West Nile’s the newest form of the mosquito-borne disease to appear in the state, and with six deaths last year, the most dangerous. Every year we have “a handful of cases” of LaCrosse encephalitis, mostly in the northeast corner of the state, and there’s a case of St-Louis encephalitis every couple years. Quinlisk confirmed that it seems to be a pattern when West Nile first appears in a state, it peaks in the second or third year and then cases slowly subside. On the east coast Quinlisk says there were very bad years three or four years ago and now there are substantially fewer cases, and she says as it’s moved further west you still see “very bad problems” when the virus first appears in a state. Officials at the press conference reminded Iowans about checking window screens, wearing insect repellent, and checking for standing water around their homes. Asked why the state alerts Iowans every year, Quinlisk pointed out its importance as a public health issue. She says we had several people die last year, and though there were only about 150 cases she asks how many there might have been if the health department hadn’t urged Iowans to take precautions. Quinlisk notes neighboring states has “huge problems.” Nebraska just reported its first case of West Nile but last year two-thousand-366 were infected in that state and 29 Nebraskans died.
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