West Nile Virus Reaches Navajo Nation

West Nile Virus Reaches Navajo Nation

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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) -- West Nile virus has reached the Navajo Nation after two horses tested positive for the disease, including the first equine case in Arizona, tribal officials said Thursday.

Tests for the disease were pending on three other horses from the Arizona side of the reservation, said Scott Bender, special projects veterinarian with the Navajo Nation Veterinary and Livestock Program.

Word of the first evidence of West Nile on Navajo Nation has raised fears among tribal officials that the mosquito-borne illness may spread to humans as it enters its peak season.

The tribal administration mobilized executive divisions and departments "to block a potential mass outbreak of the virus on the Navajo Nation," Navajo Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. said in a statement Thursday.

"Most importantly, we must take immediate and necessary precautions to protect young children and elderly, diabetic patients, and individuals with high-risk illness," he said.

The equine cases were reported in the central portion of the expansive 16.2 million-acre reservation, which stretches from the northwestern corner of New Mexico into northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

The first two confirmed horse cases are in Newcomb, N.M., and Nazlini, Ariz., Bender said. The Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed the Nazlini case is the first equine case in that state.

Test results from two other horses from the Window Rock, Ariz., area and a third from the community of Many Farms, north of Chinle, Ariz., were expected within the next several days.

Earlier this week, West Nile was detected in a mosquito pool in Arizona for the first time.

The virus was first detected in New Mexico in August 2002 in horses from Quay and Curry counties. Thursday's announcement brings the number of equine cases in New Mexico to 82. Eight human cases have also been reported this year in the state, but no one has died from the disease.

Bender said the virus would have reached the reservation sooner had it not been for extremely dry conditions.

"It would have been here last year had it not been for the drought," he said.

The tribe began trapping and testing mosquitoes three years ago for several viruses, including West Nile. Since the first of May, Bender's program has also been testing three chicken flocks on the Arizona side as markers for possible infection because mosquitos feed on the chickens daily, Bender said. Last week, the Navajo Nation's Tribal Council announced it would spend more than $131,000 to vaccinate horses and start a public information campaign about West Nile.

Tribal officials were concerned the disease could spread quickly among an estimated 50,000 horses on the reservation, especially given recent heavy rains that left many pools of water.

Health officials plan to visit all 110 communities on the reservation over the next month and to vaccinate about 5,000 horses. The vaccinations began Monday.

In New Mexico, state public health veterinarian Paul Ettestad has said more cases can be expected.

New Mexico became the 41st state to see a human case of the mosquito-borne disease in July when a woman in Valencia County was diagnosed with a fairly mild infection.

Nationwide, the number of human infections has more than doubled to nearly 400 over the past week as the virus enters its peak season, federal officials said Thursday. Only three states -- Oregon, Nevada and Utah -- have yet to detect West Nile.

The virus, passed to humans by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds, can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches. It is rarely fatal.

Most of the 393 human West Nile cases reported so far this year were in the High Plains and Rocky Mountains. Colorado has reported the most cases at 195.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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