Columbia County records first case of West Nile in state this year

June 2, 2018

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has confirmed the first case of West Nile virus recorded in the state this year was found in a bird from Columbia County.

The virus is common during the summer months and is transmitted by mosquitoes.

“We know that we will have activity in Wisconsin each year and the main reason for the bird surveillance program is to detect when that activity begins as early as possible,” said DHS vectorborne epidemiologist Christine Muganda.

Columbia County Health Officer Susan Lorenz said a resident called a hotline established to report dead birds after finding the carcass of a blue jay.

Lorenz asked the caller to wrap the bird up and place it in the freezer to prevent further decomposition and headed to the scene. She then sent it to a state lab for analysis.

It is the first dead bird to test positive for West Nile in Columbia County since 2011, Lorenz said.

“We can detect activity early if we are monitoring certain bird populations and those birds are often corvus,” Muganda said. “So crows, blue jays and ravens tend to be particularly receptive and they are more susceptible to West Nile, so if we find them sick or dead, we can suspect that West Nile might be the cause of that, depending on the seasonality.”

Once confirmed, Columbia County Health and Human Services officials began notifying other relevant organizations, including the hotline caller, area medical clinics and hospitals.

Although humans are susceptible to West Nile virus, only one in five humans infected show any symptoms. Among a small minority — about one out of 150 cases — the symptoms can become dangerous.

When symptoms appear, according to DHS Vectorborne Program Coordinator Ryan Wozniak, warning signs may include headaches or a high fever, which in the extreme can lead to meningitis or encephalitis, involving swelling and inflammation in the brain, paralysis and coma.

Other symptoms include neck stiffness, extreme muscle weakness, tremors, convulsions and disorientation.

“Even though it is very common to not have symptoms, when they do develop, they can be very severe and even cause death, unfortunately,” Muganda said.

No additional West Nile tests will be taken in Columbia County this year now that the presence of the virus has been confirmed.

DHS advises avoiding mosquitoes by limiting time outside around dawn and dusk, wearing long sleeves and pants and using mosquito repellent. Mosquito populations can be limited by eliminating potential breeding sites by disposing of old tires, cans or containers with standing water, draining water from pools or hot tub covers, changing bird baths and water dishes for pets every 3-4 days.

“We typically expect activity to pick up around mid-May,” Muganda said. “This particular bird was picked up a little bit earlier than we would expect and the weather can impact that, because of when the mosquitoes become active.”