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Dissecting and epidemic: Students warned to watch for West Nile


Photo
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA research scientist Frank Ramberg examines a Culex mosquito yesterday in his lab in the Marley building. The Culex mosquito, most active between sunset and sunrise, is primarily responsible for the transmission of the West Nile virus.
By Kris Cabulong
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
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While no cases of West Nile have been reported at the UA, students are advised to take precautions to avoid the potentially fatal virus.

There have been 307 cases of West Nile in Arizona to date, accounting for a full third of all cases nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the most deadly cases have been confined to the elderly and infants, Elizabeth Willott, assistant professor of entomology, advised the campus community to use insect repellent containing DEET, a proven mosquito repellent. She said it will work best when sprayed around the cuffs of sleeves and pant legs, Willott said.

She also advises students to cover up.

"Wear clothes. The mosquitoes here are generally wimps, so long shirts and pants and socks are generally a pretty good deterrent," said Willott, who is involved with a Pima County team trying to contain the virus.

Last week, a man in nearby Maricopa County contracted the virus from a blood transfusion and died, bringing the death toll in Arizona to four. In Maricopa, there have been 279 documented cases of human infection, but here, in Pima County and at the UA, there have been none. So far.

"This summer, a man in Marana found 47 dead birds by his house. They tested positive for West Nile," said Frank Ramberg, a UA research scientist who has been investigating West Nile.

The virus is primarily transmitted between birds by mosquitoes, but mosquitoes are also able to transmit it to humans. The annual migration of birds is responsible for the fast-spreading epidemic, which sprouted from the Northeast in 1999 and reached the Southwest in 2004.

"Anyone can be at risk," Willott said.

"So far in Arizona, a very young baby and people in their 90s have been infected, and basically all ages in between," she said.

Culex quinquefasciatus, the culprit mosquito, is most active from sunset to sunrise, said Ramberg.

"But that won't stop one of these guys from biting you in a cool classroom during the day," Ramberg warns.

Ramberg, Willott and others from Facilities Management and the entomology department have organized a weekly sampling program for adult mosquitoes in order to predict and control mosquito hotspots. And they're asking for help.

Toss your trash - discarded coffee cups can breed a couple hundred larvae per week, said Willott.

Suspicious standing pools of water should be reported to Facilities Management, especially if there are twittering mosquito larvae nearby.

Ramberg advises students and faculty to report dead birds as well - the first signs of a West Nile outbreak - and to report mosquito hotspots.

Willott said while standing water does attract mosquitoes, not all water sources are breeding grounds.

"There are fish in the fish pond north of University Boulevard on Park. Presumably they help," she said.

While 80 percent of those who contract West Nile don't show symptoms, most of those who do develop fevers, body aches, nausea and sometimes swollen lymph glands.

One in 150 people will develop severe illness, including high fevers and polio-like symptoms such as comas, vision loss, convulsions and paralysis.

Symptoms can last several weeks, and neurological effects can cause permanent damage.



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