Two Squirrels In Payson Test Positive For West Nile

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Two squirrels found at 1214 N. Matterhorn Road in Payson tested positive for the West Nile virus last week.

Payson Animal Control Officer Don Tanner was called to the residence of Bob and Peggy Schuler on Aug. 8, about an ill squirrel.

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Courtesy Arizona Game and Fish

He used graspers and a kennel to recover a squirrel.

"As I was leaving, I noticed a second squirrel that seemed to have no coordination. It was going around and around in small circles, so I recovered it too," Tanner said.

The squirrels were turned over to Gila County officials and then sent to the Arizona Department of Health Services testing.

"Craig Levy of the state health department contacted the county and told them the squirrels tested positive for the West Nile virus," Tanner said. "Craig said no one has ever contracted the West Nile Virus by normal handling of infected animals. The disease is transferred through mosquitoes."

On its website, the Arizona Department of Health Services, stated that about 80 percent of persons who become infected with West Nile Virus will either have no symptoms at all or very mild illness. About 20 percent will develop flu-like conditions such as headache, fever, body aches, swollen glands and muscle weakness, which can persist for weeks.

"A small number of people will have a severe reaction and require hospitalization," Tanner said. "The severe symptoms include headache, high fever, a stiff neck, mental confusion, muscle weakness, tremors, coma and paralysis. There is no treatment."

West Nile virus was first found in Arizona in 2003. The state recently started testing squirrels for the virus, Tanner said. Originally the tests were done on dead birds or mosquitoes were captured and tested.

Last year, the department of health said Arizona was in the middle of the nation's West Nile outbreak -- since then 16 deaths and 391 human cases have been reported. The virus has been detected in 11 of the state's 15 counties.

The best prevention is to drain standing water, Tanner said. Mosquitoes, which spread West Nile virus and many other diseases, breed in stagnant pools.

David Fletcher, health and community services director for Gila County, also cautioned people to stay protected with effective insect repellent if they are out in the evening.

The state has established a website for more information about West Nile virus. See www.westnileaz.com.

"The virus is in Arizona and it's here to stay," Fletcher said.

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