Officials reassure residents

Mike Linn

New Mexico health officials told a group of Portales senior citizens about the symptoms and dangers of West Nile Virus, then tried to persuade the group that they had nothing to worry about.
Nelson Powers, an entomologist with the New Mexico Department of Health, gave a 45-minute presentation about the mosquito-transmitted virus Tuesday evening at the Portales Senior Citizens Center.
“There is a concern, but don’t panic, there’s no need for any real fears,” Powers said.
As of Aug. 6, three humans and 52 horses in New Mexico have obtained the virus. Powers said there has been one case in a horse in Roosevelt County.
Even with the drought — mosquitoes lay eggs in moist areas — West Nile is a threat in New Mexico, Powers noted.
The majority of the cases in horses come from the north and northwest parts of the state, something Powers believes is a carryover from a larger-than-normal outbreak in Colorado this year.
Swamps, still water, water collected in tires and birdhouses all offer ideal areas for mosquitoes to lay their larva, and Powers said it is important for residents to get rid of still water areas.
“If you have a bird house, it’s a good idea to change that water every three days or so,” Powers said. “It’s also important to empty tires that collect water.”
The virus is most dangerous among people over 50 years old, and symptoms can include confusion, high fever and muscle aches and pains.
Still, Powers said only about 20 percent of those who attain the virus will have any symptoms, and less than one percent will actually die from the virus.
Ted Brown, a retired state health employee, said that mosquito-transmitted viruses come and go in phases. In 1987, he said many horses in the west and in New Mexico died from Western Equine Encephalitis.
Brown said the species of culex mosquitoes are the ones that carry viruses that affect horses and humans.
The virus first showed up in the United States in 1999 in New York City, Powers said. Originating in Northern areas of the Nile River in Africa, the virus is transmitted from birds to mosquitoes in America.
When the birds migrate so does the virus, Powers noted.
Powers detailed an array of precautions for those worried about catching the virus. Those include: using mosquitoes repellent, wearing long clothes and not going outdoors during dusk and the early morning hours, when mosquitoes are most active.