Nova Scotia Prepares For West Nile Virus Season

Department of Health (To Jan. 11)

May 8, 2003 10:08 AM

The province has developed a plan that will keep the public up to
date on West Nile virus in Nova Scotia.

The West Nile Virus Action Plan, released today, May 8, will
track incidences of the illness, provide information for the
public and for health professionals, allow diagnostic testing
closer to home, help protect the blood supply and reduce mosquito
populations.

There have been no human cases of West Nile virus in the
province, but the virus was found in four birds in the summer of
2002.

West Nile virus infection is caused by a bite from a mosquito
that carries the virus. While most infected people will have no
symptoms, it is possible for the virus to cause serious illness.

"For most people, we know that the risk of becoming sick from
West Nile virus is very low," said Health Minister Jane Purves.
"However, this is a serious health issue and we are taking the
necessary steps to reduce the risk to Nova Scotians."

A provincial working group was established in 2000 to follow
development of West Nile virus in other parts of North America
and to develop response plans for Nova Scotia. The group consists
of experts in birds, mosquitoes, animals and human health. The
group will put the plan in action and is responsible for ongoing
assessment of the risk of West Nile virus to Nova Scotians.

"Until we see infected birds, the risk of human cases in the
province is extremely low," said Dr. Maureen Baikie, associate
medical officer of health for the province. "Surveillance,
information for health-care professionals and the public, and
prevention of mosquito bites and mosquito breeding are key
factors in reducing the risk to Nova Scotians."

The action plan includes:
-- West Nile Virus Watch: This surveillance program will be
carried out throughout the summer in co-operation with the
Department of Natural Resources. Department staff will begin on
May 20 to collect some dead crows, blue jays and ravens to be
tested for West Nile virus. Dead birds can be reported to local
offices of the Department of Natural Resources during regular
business hours, or via the toll-free line at 1-800-565-1633 after
hours. Staff will assess whether the bird can be used for testing
and will explain how to safely dispose of the bird if it can't be
tested. The Department of Health will work with physicians on any
suspected cases involving humans.

-- Public Information Campaign: Part of a larger Enjoy the
Outdoors Safely initiative, public information efforts will help
make Nova Scotians aware of West Nile virus, Lyme disease and
rabies. The West Nile portion will include a poster, brochure and
fact sheets, a new, easy-to-navigate West Nile virus section on
the existing Department of Health Web site, and a toll-free
information line for the public.

-- Information for Health Professionals: This information will
note the status of West Nile virus and will explain the process
of reporting human cases. The Department of Health is also
arranging information sessions with health-care professionals
throughout the province to explain signs and symptoms of the
virus, diagnostic testing and treatment.

-- Provincial Diagnostic Testing for Human Illness: Initial
testing will now take place in Halifax, rather than at Health
Canada's national microbiology laboratory in Winnipeg, to ensure
prompt diagnosis. If confirmation tests are required they will
still be conducted at the lab in Winnipeg.

-- Co-operation With Canadian Blood Services: Canadian Blood
Services (CBS) will be immediately notified of West Nile virus
activity in the province so that CBS staff can quickly assess
risk to the blood supply and take appropriate action. CBS will
also notify the Department of Health if the virus is detected in
donors.

-- Mosquito Control: Control initiatives will include avoidance,
personal protection from bites, and reduction of mosquito
breeding grounds such as gutters, empty containers and pool
covers. Tips for the public on these forms of mosquito control
will be included in information materials and posted on the Web
site. Decisions around further mosquito control will be based on
ongoing assessment of West Nile activity in the province, health
risks, and a number of other factors.

Additional information -- including a chart that indicates the
number of positive bird, mosquito and human cases in the province
-- will be added to the Department of Health Web site at
www.gov.ns.ca/health during the next three weeks.

A toll-free information line (1-800-430-9557) for health
questions is also available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m beginning
Monday, May 12.

Updates on West Nile virus will be made available through the
media as necessary.


FOR BROADCAST USE:

     The province has developed a plan that will keep the public

up to date on West Nile virus in Nova Scotia.

     The West Nile Virus Action Plan, released today (May 8th),

will track incidences of the illness, provide public information

allow diagnostic testing closer to home, help protect the blood

supply and help deal with mosquito populations.

     There have been no human cases of West Nile virus in the

province. The virus was found in four birds last summer.

     West Nile virus is caused by a bite from an infected

mosquito. Most infected people will have no symptoms but it is

possible for the virus to cause serious illness.

     Health Minister Jane Purves says that is why government is

taking steps to reduce the risk to Nova Scotians.

-30-

Contact: Kim Silver
         Department of Health
         902-424-5323
         E-mail: silverka@gov.ns.ca

                                 tdt         May 8, 2003         10:05 A.M.