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Health Briefs

West Nile Virus Found

A mosquito pool collected on July 21 in the Lee District of Fairfax County tested positive for the West Nile virus, according to the Fairfax County Department of Health.

This is the first positive mosquito pool identified this year and is the first indicator of West Nile virus activity in the county, according to the department of health.

As a response to these findings, the department of health is reminding residents to protect themselves from mosquitoes by eliminating mosquito breeding areas around neighborhoods and homes and to use insect repellents.

More than 34,000 mosquitoes have been trapped in 3,000 pools this year. In previous years positive pools were found much earlier in the season, according to the department of health.

West Nile virus is spread to birds, humans, horses and other mammals through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Most people bitten by an infected mosquito do not get sick. However, the majority of those who do get sick usually suffer mild flu-like illness, according to the department of health. People over the age of 50 are at the greatest risk of serious illness, such as encephalitis — inflammation of the brain — or meningitis — inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

Since mid-May, the Fairfax County environmental health staff has taken a proactive approach in combating West Nile virus by treating more than 35,000 storm drains with a larvicide, which inhibits mosquito breeding. Storm drain treatments will continue for the rest of the mosquito season in targeted areas of the country. While these treatments will not eliminate all of the mosquitoes that carry the virus, the mosquito population should be dramatically reduced.

Since 2002, Fairfax County has had 17 human cases and two deaths as a result of West Nile virus. To help prevent mosquitoes the department of health recommends: use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus; wear long, loose, light-colored clothing; turn over or remove containers in your yard where water collects, such as old tires, potted plant trays, buckets and toys; fill in root-ball holes from downed tress or any depression that holds water for more than one week; eliminate standing water on traps or flat roofs; clean out birdbaths and wading pools once a week; clean roof gutters and down spouts regularly. For more information visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/fightthebite.

Breastfeeding Saves Money

To help new parents save money and improve the health of a mother and child, the Virginia Department of Health suggests mothers breast-feed their young children.

Mothers who breast-feed can save at least $700 on the cost for standard infant formula during the first year, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This figure can increase significantly if the child needs a specialty formula, according to the department of health. Savings can increase further due to the fact that breast-fed babies generally incur fewer health-care expenses and their parents lose less time from work to care for a sick child. At least $3.6 billion could be saved nationwide in health care costs if more mothers breast-fed their babies, according to the health department.

Breastfeeding is an important factor in reducing infant and childhood diseases, according to the health department. Breastfeeding decreases the frequency and severity of diarrhea and gastrointestinal illnesses in newborns and it also lowers the risk of respiratory infections, allergic diseases, childhood asthma and leukemia, according to the health department.

It is recommended that mothers feed their infants only breast milk for the first six months of life and thereafter as long as it is mutually desired, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Breastfeeding may also protect children against obesity later in life. Research suggests that breast-fed babies are better able to regulate their feedings, which leads to better eating habits as they grow, according to the health department. Researchers also found a possible link between breast milk and a baby's ability to store fat in healthy amounts.

Mothers also benefit when they breast-feed their babies. They experience a decreased risk of ovarian and breast cancer and increased weight loss. Breastfeeding mothers also show less postpartum anxiety and depression than do formula-feeding mothers, according to the health department.

Breastfeeding in the United States has increased from 24 percent in the 1970s to 70 percent in 2002, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Virginia, 67.2 percent of mothers who gave birth in a hospital in 2003 initiated breastfeeding, according to the Ross Mothers Survey. For more information about breastfeeding visit http://www.vahealth.org/breastfeeding. Other sites include the La Leche League's Web site at http://www.lalecheleague.org and the American Dietetic Association's site at http://www.eatright.org.

Pet Rodents Health Risk

The Virginia Department of Health is asking pet store owners that sell rodents such as mice, hamsters and guinea pigs to take extra precautions to limit the spread of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).

Usually carried by wild house mice, LCMV can also affect pet rodents, which can then pass the infection on to humans.

For residents who currently own or are considering purchasing a pet rodent, or if a resident has a problem with wild rodents, the department of health recommends safeguarding against this disease — especially if pregnant or immunocompromised.

Although human infection is rare, there can be serious consequences for the unborn child of a pregnant woman infected during the first or second trimester, according to the department of health. Similarly, those with weakened immune systems or individuals preparing to donate organs should also avoid contact with wild and pet rodents.

In May an infection passed from a pet rodent to an organ donor in New England, resulting in the deaths of the three recipients of the donated organs, according to the department of health. Because of this, health officials have become increasingly concerned about LCMV. The infection was traced back to a pet rodent distributor in Ohio who supplies hamsters and guinea pigs to chain and independent pet stores in several states, possibly including Virginia, according to the department of health.

Pet rodents can become infected with LCMV after coming in contact with wild rodents at a breeding facility, pet store, or at home. Humans can develop LCMV infection from exposure to urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting material of infected rodents. Most people who become infected with the virus do not become ill. Those who do fall ill may experience symptoms such as fever, stiff neck, lack of appetite, muscle aches, headache, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms occur one to two weeks after exposure and are usually short in duration.

Currently there is no way to determine how many or which pet rodents are infected with LCMV. The only reliable test for LCMV in rodents requires that the animals be dead. The investigations at the Ohio distributor and the pet store where the donor bought the implicated rodent identified a small proportion of hamsters and a guinea pig as infected. There is no way to know what percentage, if any, of other pet rodents are infected. Studies on house mice have shown that anywhere from three to 40 percent are infected, according to the department of health.

Testing healthy people for LCMV is not necessary. Similarly, testing people with previous history of LCMV-compatible illness generally is not useful. People who have been exposed to wild or pet rodents and show symptoms of LCMV should seek medical care.

Pet rodent owners who are concerned about LCMV are reminded not to release unwanted pet rodents into the wild. This increases the risk of infection in wild rodent populations and is an inhumane way to dispose of unwanted house pets.

For more information about pet rodent handling instructions, an overview of LCMV, and tips on how to keep your family safe from animal-born diseases, visit http://www.vdh.virginia.gov and click on the link for Disease Information and Prevention. Additional information about LCMV can also be found at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/spb/mnpages/dispages/lcmv.htm.