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College Helps State Cope with West Nile Virus on Many Fronts

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois was the state hardest hit by the 2002 West Nile virus outbreak, with 48 human deaths and 738 human cases of the mosquito-borne disease reported as of early November.

The virus, common to Africa, the Middle East and West Asia, was identified in the eastern United States in 1999. It has moved westward across the country and was first seen in Illinois in 2001.

The College of Veterinary Medicine played an important role throughout this year, assisting state agencies with surveillance, offering public education, and treating WNV cases in the hospital and wildlife clinic.
[Dr. John Andrews (right), leads a 4th-year student in a necropsy of an owl]
Dr. John Andrews (right), director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, leads 4th-year students in a necropsy of an owl with West Nile virus.

In April the College’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, along with the Animal Disease Laboratory in Galesburg, Ill., began identifying crows and blue jays infected with the virus as part of the state’s surveillance plan. By fall infected birds had been identified from nearly all Illinois counties.

In June the College hosted a public forum to provide accurate and timely information on the virus.

In August the diagnostic laboratory began offering a serologic test to detect recent WNV infection in horses. The equine section of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital was inundated with WNV cases throughout the summer and fall.

Also in August, the College’s Spatial Analysis/GIS Laboratory, under the supervision of Dr. Marilyn Ruiz in collaboration with Dr. Uriel Kitron, veterinary pathobiology, launched a Web-based mapping program to dynamically depict the spread of the virus throughout the state. The site was updated frequently with data from the state public health department.

In September the diagnostic laboratory announced that it had documented the nation’s first cases of deaths caused by WNV in a dog, a wolf, and squirrels. The dog, an 8-year-old Irish setter-golden retriever mix from Bloomington-Normal, appeared to have other potentially immune-compromising infections at the time of its death. College Extension staff issued fact sheets for the public and for small animal veterinarians to allay the concerns of dog owners.

The College’s Wildlife Medical Clinic also saw increased activity due to the WNV outbreak. Large numbers of infected owls and hawks were brought to the clinic. Bird populations in Illinois zoos, including pelicans and flamingos, were also affected, according to tests performed by the diagnostic laboratory.

FAQs, maps, and news releases on West Nile virus are available on the College Web site at http://www.cvm.uiuc.edu/czr/wnv.cfm.

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