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West Nile virus won't come to Nunavut

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 12/02) - We have ravens and we have more than our share of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, but it's unlikely that we'll get the West Nile virus in Nunavut.

The West Nile virus is drawing more and more attention across North America as it infects an increasing number of ravens and crows -- and humans in both Canada and the United States.

Birds from the corvid family, to which ravens belong, appear to be particularly susceptible to the virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds. It cannot be passed directly from bird to human or from human to human.

However, the presence of mosquitoes and ravens doesn't necessarily mean the virus can appear. Doug Campbell, a staff pathologist with the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre at the University of Guelph in Ontario, says the conditions aren't right in Nunavut.

Campbell, who looks after all diseased animal cases in Nunavut and Ontario in his work at the centre, says the virus needs specific conditions to reproduce.

Foremost, the virus needs enough birds capable of supporting the infection and developing high enough levels of the virus in their bloodstream to infect mosquitos.

Nunavut has enough birds, but not the right kind of mosquitoes. Campbell said arctic mosquitos do not feed on both birds and humans.

"They wouldn't likely be a good vector (transmitter) of the West Nile virus," says Campbell. "It's unlikely they'd be capable of transmitting the disease," he says.

Furthermore, the climate in Nunavut isn't warm enough for the virus. Campbell says warmer temperatures are necessary for the virus to reproduce. "Areas where there are short summers are unlikely to have enough heat to grow enough of the virus to establish it in the area," he says.

The virus, which moves to new locations via migratory birds, appeared in Canada last year.

The effects range from muscle aches and flu-like symptoms to death caused by swelling of the brain.