Volume 96, Issue 7
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

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West Nile virus arrives in London

By Emmett Macfarlane
Gazette Staff

West Nile virus has been detected in mosquitoes in the London area, according to Jim Reffle, director of Environmental Health Services at the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

The report coincides with news of the first human case in Ontario, reported last Friday. The West Nile virus has captured news headlines throughout the summer, with several deaths occurring in the United States. The virus is spread from birds to humans via mosquito bites, with most of the human cases being documented in the southern US.

Reffle said the media attention is a result of officials trying to warn the public of the new virus. "The level of risk, compared to other things, is [relatively] low," he said.

Media, information and technoculture professor Jacquelyn Burkell said she was not sure the news coverage was excessive, but added it was likely misleading.

"You're undoubtedly more likely to die in your car on [Highway] 401 than of West Nile," Burkell said. "What we tend to do is react to risks that are sensationalized," she added.

Fourth-year political science student Jason Furman said he was aware of the West Nile virus.

"It is kind of new," Furman said, adding he knew the chance of contracting the virus was very minimal.

"I don't think twice about the news coverage being too much," he said. Furman added he did not take precautions against mosquito bites, but said he felt the warnings were important.

Even the positive mosquito tests in the London area do not mean there is an imminent threat to people, Reffle said.

"These mosquitoes that were tested were of the species that predominately feed off birds," he stated.

"At this point, we haven't seen the mosquitoes that feed off humans and birds," Reffle said, adding particular species' of mosquitoes would serve as the bridge to transfer the disease from birds to humans.

The Health Unit advises people to take precautions when outdoors in areas inhabited by mosquitoes, Reffle noted.

The public is advised to avoid keeping standing water on their property. People should wear clothing that covers their arms and legs and use insect repellent to protect themselves from bites.

"There is a potential risk for a small percentage of people to develop [the virus]," Reffle explained.


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