By RICHARD SKOLNIK
Although the burden of disease and deaths from West Nile virus is low, this disease still concerns people, especially when infected birds die and are found on or around school grounds, among other places.
To date, we have received no communications from the NM Department of Health or Los Alamos County about what either is doing to address West Nile virus in either Los Alamos or in the state.
In this light, I wrote to the Deputy Secretary of Health, Dr. Laura Parajon, about this matter and she kindly passed my questions on to Dr. Chad Smelzer, the Deputy State Epidemiologist. I cite below the questions I raised and the responses from Dr. Smelzer. (My questions are in italics; Dr. Smelzer’s responses are in plain text).
Given Dr. Smelzer’s comments about working with local jurisdictions on vector (mosquito) control, it would be good for the County to tell us if it is engaged in any such efforts.
What kind of surveillance does NMDOH have of people who are diagnosed with West Nile? How often will the NMDOH report to the public on this information?
Positive West Nile virus laboratory results are required to be reported to the state. We investigate every report of West Nile virus infection in humans and animals in NM; the data are communicated to CDC via the ArboNet platform. Our website is updated once per week at minimum and a press release goes out after the detection of the first positive animal and usually when we have our first human death.
Is the NMDOH carrying out surveillance of mosquitoes and, if so, in what parts of the state?
Not in a significant way.
Is the NMDOH carrying out surveillance of dead birds? (Should people report dead birds to NMDOH?).
As WNV is endemic in New Mexico, it is known that the virus circulates in birds each year and surveillance does not provide actionable information. Corvids (such as jays, ravens, and magpies) are very susceptible to West Nile; dead corvids during the summer are likely to have succumbed to WNV. While many species of birds are severely affected with WNV, some harbor the virus with no ill effects. Since we already know WNV is circulating in the state testing more birds does not change our public health message = prevention of mosquito bites.
Is the NMDOH itself or in conjunction with local governments carrying out any efforts to reduce mosquito breeding sites?
Some local jurisdictions do have vector control programs or contract with independent vector control companies. NMDOH communicated directly with multiple jurisdictions when we had our first West Nile virus cases to inform them of the cases and discussed how they can target vector control interventions.
Has the NMDOH informed physicians across the state to be aware of possible cases of West Nile among their patients?
Yes – a Health Alert Network message was sent August 18, 2023 to physicians.
Richard Skolnik is the former Director for Health, Nutrition, and Population for South Asia at the World Bank. He was a Lecturer in Global Health at The George Washington University and Yale, where he still holds an appointment, and the Executive Director of a Harvard AIDS treatment program for three countries in Africa. Richard is also the Instructor for the Yale/Coursera course Essentials of Global Health and the author of Global Health 101, Fourth Edition.