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West Nile virus found in Kanawha County

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mosquitoes at three sites in Kanawha County have tested positive for the West Nile virus, county health officials said Thursday.

State officials have tested the insects at the National Guard base near Coonskin Park, an area of Greenbrier Street and in Marmet -- and all insects at all three sites tested positive, Anita Ray, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's director of environmental health, said at a meeting of the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health.

No cases of West Nile virus in humans have been reported in West Virginia, but Ray said she would not be surprised if humans were to contract the illness.

Ray advised residents to avoid being outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. She also said people should wear bug repellent and light-colored clothing.

Nationally, 2012 has seen the highest number of West Nile cases so far, said Janet Briscoe, the health department's director of epidemiology and emergency preparedness.

Dallas, Texas, recently issued a state of emergency to combat the virus, Briscoe said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported close to 700 cases of West Nile nationally. Half of those cases have been reported in Texas, Briscoe said.

According to the CDC, about one in 150 people infected with the virus will develop serious symptoms, which can include paralysis, convulsions, loss of vision, numbness and high fever. On the other head, four out of every five people infected with the virus will not show any symptoms at all.

Also at Thursday's health board meeting, Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director, told the board the health department would be allowed to apply directly to the state Bureau for Public Health for an infrastructure grant from the CDC.

The state Ethics Commission recently ruled that members of West Virginia Local Health Inc., a nonprofit association made up of health department employees, violated the state's Ethics Act by awarding federal grant money to their employers.

Gupta had raised questions about the distribution of the $400,000 grant in April. The money was given to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, which delegated distribution of the grant to West Virginia Local Health Inc. Kanawha-Charleston ultimately pulled away from the grant application, and from the association of Local Health Departments, over the matter.

The health department had initially requested and was denied an opportunity to apply directly to the Bureau for Public Health instead of going through West Virginia Local Health Inc. However, in light of the recent ruling from the Ethics Commission, the agency is allowing health departments to apply for the funds directly through the BPH, according to a DHHR letter dated Aug. 15.

Gupta said he received the letter and grant guidance from the BPH on Wednesday and will have five business days to complete the grant application. Gupta said the department would apply by the Aug. 22 deadline.

"Yeah, we're going to have to," he said. "We worked so hard to get it the right way, and now, finally, they're doing what they're supposed to be doing in the first place. We're happy about that, so we're obviously going to apply."

Gupta was not sure whether the grant application is now open to all local health departments or only those who had previously applied for the grant through West Virginia Local Health Inc. The deadline for spending the money has been extended to Dec. 31, he said.

In other business, three cases of H3N2 swine flu in humans have been reported in West Virginia, Briscoe said. All three cases were people who attended a county fair in Ohio. From July 12 through Aug. 9, 153 cases of the illness have been reported nationally. Most of those cases have been linked to contact with swine, Briscoe said. So far, this strain of H3N2 has been mild, she said.

Additionally Thursday, health board members went into executive session to discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit, but Gupta would not say what the potential lawsuit was about.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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