The Year West Nile Peaked...Again

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Even with cold weather arriving, the work of those studying West Nile does not stop. And with the 2005 season, there's plenty to examine.

"It is equal to what happened in 2003 in terms of the infection rates with mosquitoes," said Texas A&M entomologist Jim Olsen. "Certainly, we found out more about the birds this year because we had an in-field test the health department could use."

And increased public cooperation from Brazos County residents helped with finding and containing the disease.

"Our program is based on their calling in dead birds, and making dead and sick bird reports to the county health department, and that gives guidance to our whole health program," Olsen said.

Several hundred calls came in concerning dead birds this year, resulting in a smattering of jay and crow cases to go along with more than a dozen mosquito pools in the Twin Cities. Those totals are on par with 2003, and down from 2004, part of the cyclical trend this disease has shown so far.

"This is the way it seems to go," Olsen explained. "One year, it explodes. Then, it kind of falls off, and then it explodes another year."

But when a human case of West Nile was found this year, as infrequent as it was, Dr. Olsen says there was a bit of a hindrance in the form of the Health Information Protection Act, signed into law a few years ago, but more recently enforced. Health officials could not reveal where a person with West Nile lived, any symptoms they had, or even their current condition.

"Mosquitoes don't have rights yet," quipped Olsen, "so we can at least announce the mosquitoes and the birds, and that let people know it was still active."

But with the area being in the early stages of the presence of the disease, Olsen says you can't expect 2006 to be an easy year.

"We don't know enough to be able to predict," he said. "We just have to be ready for the worst and thank God for the best."