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West Nile virus arrives in B.C.

Residents of British Columbia are advised to start protecting themselves, their families, horses and other livestock from mosquitoes now that the West Nile virus has crossed the country.

A mosquito pool sample collected from the south Okanagan tested positive for the virus at the Provincial Health Services Authority Laboratories at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the province confirmed Saturday.

“At the same time, public health authorities are investigating possible West Nile virus cases in two Kelowna residents, who had only travelled within the central and south Okanagan areas in the Interior Health region,” the province said.

“This doesn’t really come as a surprise,” provincial heath officer Dr. Perry Kendall said Saturday. “We have been anticipating the arrival of West Nile virus in our province for several years now, especially considering that infection has been widely reported in humans and animals in several provinces across Canada and the U.S. in recent years, including provinces and states bordering B.C.

“The important things to note are that B.C. has a robust mosquito and West Nile virus surveillance system, and that people can take common sense precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

“Even though we are late in August,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer with the Interior Health Authority, “it would be prudent to ensure that homes, gardens, backyards and indeed any open spaces near residential and farm areas aren’t breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“This and other basic personal protection steps are sensible precautions that all of us should take, and this is a public health message we have been reiterating year after year.”

First identified in the West Nile Valley of Uganda in 1937, West Nile virus first jumped to North America by way of New York in 1999, and has worked its way west since then.

West Nile virus affects “a range” of animals, including horses, the province said, advising horse owners in B.C. to talk to their veterinarians about a vaccine that’s available to protect their animals.

Of people who are infected with West Nile virus, the province noted, most will have no symptoms at all. About 20 per cent will develop an illness with fever, headaches and rash symptoms.

In about one out of 150 cases, more severe complications can occur, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis, the infection of the lining of the brain.

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