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West Nile found in bird

One month after a Fargo-area horse tested positive for West Nile virus, North Dakota health officials confirmed Monday the state's first case this year involving a dead bird.

One month after a Fargo-area horse tested positive for West Nile virus, North Dakota health officials confirmed Monday the state's first case this year involving a dead bird.

The bird was found June 4 in the Fargo area and submitted for testing at North Dakota State University, said Brady Scribner, an environmental health practitioner with Fargo Cass Public Health.

NDSU, in coordination with the North Dakota Department of Health, tests dead birds from across the state. Since June 1, the lab has tested 50 birds, with one testing positive for West Nile, said Scribner, who directs Cass County's efforts to pick up potentially infected birds.

Scribner said other specimens remain to be tested and local health departments will continue submitting birds to the NDSU lab throughout the summer.

So far, Scribner said his office has submitted more than 60 birds for testing.


The disparity between Fargo and other areas of the state, he said, is because of the proximity of NDSU and local media coverage of West Nile.

News of the case involving the dead bird prompted Cass County's mosquito control unit to up its mosquito meter Monday from a level two to a level three, which means humans are now at moderate risk for West Nile.

Cass County Vector Director Kristi Biewer said the county will increase its efforts to eradicate adult mosquitoes and educate the public on the virus.

She said the mosquito meter does not measure the abundance of mosquitoes, but instead the threat of West Nile virus.

"People have a general misconception of the meter," Biewer said. "We could have all kinds of nuisance mosquitoes, but that doesn't mean they're carrying West Nile virus."

The meter's level one dictates a remote risk to humans because West Nile isn't prevalent, Biewer said. The meter was heightened to level two, which slightly increases the risk to humans, following the positive equine test in May, she said. If the horse had tested positive now, Biewer says the level would have jumped from one to three immediately, but its likely the horse was bitten by a wintering mosquito.

However, Monday's positive test and the clear presence of mosquito season qualified the jump to three, she said.

Last summer, West Nile virus infected 65 people in North Dakota and Minnesota, killing a Fargo man. Biewer said if a human case of the virus is detected in the area, the mosquito meter will jump to a level four or possibly a level five if human outbreak is evident.


As NDSU tests birds and horses for West Nile, Cass County Vector control is testing mosquitoes from traps in 17 locations in Fargo and West Fargo, Biewer said.

Tests started Monday to detect the virus in mosquitoes. Those results were negative, said Biewer, who will coordinate efforts to continue testing on a daily basis.

Biewer said it's too early to tell if any area of the city will be more prone to West Nile or an abundance of mosquitoes.

"After a few more weeks of collecting data, we'll be able to put some trends together," she said.

Cass County Vector Control started spraying for mosquitoes in Fargo last Wednesday and will continue to do so this week.

Tracy Miller, West Nile Virus program manager for the state health department, said Monday's test results were not unexpected.

"Historically, states that experience West Nile the year before usually have it the following summer," Miller said. "We're trying to stress that so people are aware."

The state has traps set up in every county to monitor the numbers and species of mosquitoes established in an area, Miller said.


The traps are monitored every week and the specimens sent to the state's public health laboratory. Miller said a flow of information between local and state agencies should help combat the mosquito problem and ultimately West Nile virus.

New testing may also help in the fight against the virus. Doug Freeman, head of NDSU's Department of Veterinary Diagnostic Services, said the university should have a faster, more accurate testing method in place within a week.

Freeman, also a professor of veterinary and microbiological sciences, said the current tests for West Nile, accurate as they may be, can take a couple of days. The new test, he said, can detect trace amounts of genetic material and reduce the process to a few hours.

With West Nile again posing a local threat, Biewer says its important for citizens to make a concerted effort to help fight off carriers of the dangerous virus.

Biewer recommends homeowners coordinate their mosquito spraying with city crews and eliminate standing water on their property.

"We're early, but we're already seeing a good number of mosquitoes due to the rains," Biewer said. "The county can't control this problem on their own."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Nick Kotzea at (701) 235-7311

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