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First West Nile Case Confirmed in Nebraska

BY MARK ANDERSEN / Lincoln Journal Star

A dead crow found in central Lincoln has tested positive for West Nile virus, the first animal case in Nebraska this year.

Lancaster County officials said shortly after Wednesday's announcement they would get tough on those not taking steps to control standing water, the breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread the disease.

"We're taking it real seriously," said Scott Holmes, manager of environmental public health for the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

"We want to know where people are seeing standing water."

People who do not take care of the threat will be dealt with under the nuisance provision of local codes, he said.

"We'll be ordering those to be abated," he said. If that doesn't work, the department will remove potential breeding grounds and charge people for its time. A typical abatement costs between $150 and $200, Holmes said.

The diseased crow was found in late May, a month earlier than the first case last year.

In 2002, Nebraska recorded 174 cases of human infection and eight deaths. Lancaster County recorded 16 human cases and one death.

Greater rainfall and the abundance of standing water have raised concerns that this year might be worse, Holmes said.

West Nile is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird. In turn, the mosquito can pass the virus to humans. The illness is not spread from person to person.

"We're fully expecting to have positive dead birds and mosquitoes," Holmes said. "How bad it will be is fully unpredictable."

The virus is now part of the Nebraska landscape, said Dr. Richard Raymond, the state's chief medical officer

"It's a seasonal infection that will peak in July, August and September, when people should be most careful to use common-sense methods to prevent mosquito bites," Raymond said.

Only one out of 140 people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will have symptoms, which usually occur within three to 15 days.

About half of the infected people last year displayed mild to moderate symptoms, such as fever and headache. The other half had such complications as encephalitis or meningitis, convulsions or paralysis.

Those over age 50 are especially vulnerable. Last year, seven of the eight Nebraskans who died from the disease were over 50. The eighth was 19 -- the youngest victim in the nation.