West Nile Virus hasn’t been a problem in Wisconsin yet this year, but that could still change – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

West Nile Virus hasn't been a problem in Wisconsin yet this year, but that could still change - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 5

West Nile Virus activity has been low so far this year in Wisconsin, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Through the start of August, the agency reported no WNV in humans, horses or birds.

The absence of a WNV case in a bird at this time of year is “unprecedented” since the state began tracking the disease in 2002, said Rebecca Osborn, WDHS vectorborne disease epidemiologist.

In an average year, 21 dead birds with WNV have been submitted to the agency by Aug. 1, according to WDHS data.  Also, the state typically has one human case of the disease in June and two in July.

The lack of findings this year comes at a time of heightened interest and concern about WNV among the wildlife community.

The disease, spread by mosquitoes and first identified in the U.S. in 1999 and in Wisconsin in 2001, is known to affect more than 300 species of wildlife, as well as humans and horses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the species most affected are crows and jays. 

At least two deaths of common loons in July in Minnesota were linked to WNV.

West Nile Virus hasn't been a problem in Wisconsin yet this year, but that could still change - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 6

The disease has also been shown to cause fatalities in ruffed grouse and some wildlife officials have cited WNV as a potential cause for an unexpected downturn in grouse numbers and low percentage of juvenile birds during fall 2017 in the Upper Midwest.

“WNV clearly kills ruffed grouse and as many as 80% of grouse exposed to the virus are killed outright or might have reduced survival,” wrote Lisa Williams, PGC game birds biologist, in a September 2016 article in “Game News.”

In 2017, Wisconsin health officials documented 51 cases of WNV in humans, third-highest since 2002 and well above the average of 20.

So it’s likely the virus that year was more active than average among wildlife species, too, according to researchers. However, it’s unknown whether the disease could have a population-level effect on grouse in Wisconsin.

As a cautionary measure, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board shortened the 2018 ruffed grouse hunting season by one month (about 20%).

Also last year, concern over the potential impact of WNV on grouse prompted state wildlife managers in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota to launch a collaborative testing effort. Hunters were issued test kits and asked to submit blood, heart and feather samples from birds they killed. 

West Nile Virus hasn't been a problem in Wisconsin yet this year, but that could still change - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 7

The results of the testing  are expected soon, according to Mark Witecha, upland bird ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Because 2019 has been above normal for precipitation at most Wisconsin weather reporting stations, many people might expect mosquito activity and WNV activity to be up, too.

However, it’s possible the Culex species of mosquitoes (the primary WNV vectors) are not higher in number this year, said Osborn.

No agency in Wisconsin tracks numbers of mosquitoes or monitors individual species.

“It’s a reminder that not all mosquitoes carry disease,” Osborn said. “At the same time, we remind everyone to practice mosquito avoidance, since you don’t know which ones may be harmful.”

West Nile Virus hasn't been a problem in Wisconsin yet this year, but that could still change - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 8

To reduce the risk of contracting WNV and other mosquito-borne diseases, state health officials recommend people apply insect repellent on skin and clothing when outdoors and limit or eliminate sites where mosquitoes breed, such as artificial pools of standing water.

If 2019 turns out to be a light year for WNV activity in Wisconsin, it would follow a pattern seen over the last 17 years. WNV in humans tends to be episodic, said Osborn, with disease activity cycling up and down.

Despite the low WNV activity noted to date, health officials cautioned it was too early to know how the year will turn out. August and September typically account for the highest number of human cases of the disease.

DNR to repeat West Nile Virus testing in 2019

The Wisconsin DNR is once again asking hunters to submit samples from ruffed grouse this fall for West Nile testing.

The DNR has 500 self-sampling kits for ruffed grouse hunters to use in 2019. The WNV sampling kits contain instructions and all the supplies needed to collect and ship one sample. Participating hunters are asked to collect blood, a few feathers and the heart from their harvested grouse.

A leftover, unused kit from 2018 can be sent in this year for processing; there is no expiration date for the materials in the kit.

Hunters interested in participating in the study should contact their local DNR wildlife biologist. The WNV sampling kits will be available for pickup in early September.

Facility grand opening at Bong 

The Nature Explore Classroom at Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Kansasville will be revealed to the public in an Aug. 24 grand opening.

The Bong Naturalist Association has been raising funds and working to complete the project for several years.

The facility features 11 areas dedicated to movement and music, open play, dirt and sand digging, building, gardening, messy materials, climbing and crawling, water exploration and nature art, according to the association. 

The grand opening will be held 10 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 24 at Shelter #2 at Richard Bong State Recreation Area. There will be a ceremony, silent auction and refreshments as well as a ribbon cutting with lots of time to play in the Nature Explore Classroom. 

For more information, contact DNR naturalist Beth Goeppinger at  Elizabeth.Goeppinger@wi.gov or (262) 878-5607.

Source >>> Originally published at here

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