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State health officials to talk about high-profile diseases

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

FLATWOODS -- The lowdown on foot and mouth disease, West Nile Virus and rabies, plus possible talk of mad cow disease, all at one meeting.

Like watching "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" without any popcorn to clutch onto, it's enough to give most people the creeps.

But for health officials from around the state, the West Virginia Public Health Association's regional conference will be the place to be next Wednesday.

Officials from the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department plan to go. Also heading to the Flatwoods Day's Inn for the 9 a.m. meeting will be members of the Barbour County Health Department.

Edward "Bud" Shaffer, Barbour County sanitarian, hopes to learn more about the West Nile Virus, foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease.

Robin Kershner is financial director for the Barbour County agency and also plans to attend.

For that matter, just about "every county in the state is supposed to be going," she said.

One of the featured speakers will be Kim Kline, the state's regional epidemiologist for Public Health District 9. Kline's district includes eight counties in the Eastern Panhandle, plus Tucker, Randolph and Pocahontas counties.

Kline will discuss West Nile Virus detection and prevention.

"I'm going to give an overview on West Nile and what we're hoping to accomplish in the Eastern Panhandle this year," she said.

Health officials from other counties "can see what we're doing," she said. "And if we should happen to find birds in our area with the West Nile Virus, there's a possibility it has spread into their part of the state, as well."

Dr. Danae Bixler is director of infectious disease, epidemiology, for the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

She believes it will be a "very important conference."

"There's an attempt to look at all these different emerging issues," she said.

A "state-of-the-art lecture" on rabies from Dr. Cathleen Hanlon for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be one of the conference highlights, Bixler said.

Paul Nusbaum, new secretary of the state DHHR, will deliver opening remarks.

"This is an opportunity for health department personnel to see Secretary Nusbaum," said Randy Moodispaugh, administrator for the Harrison-Clarksburg Health Department. "Probably most people haven't had any contact with him. We'd all like to hear who he is and what he has to say."

Said DHHR spokesman John Law, "It's a good forum for people to get together, discuss what's going on, what the needs are and hopefully do something positive."

Dr. Lew Thomas is state veterinarian. While some residents may be intimidated by reports of new or exotic diseases, he said the efforts of those who put together the conference and those attending should help reassure them.

"I know these people. ... I know they're very conscientious and dedicated in public health, and they will do everything in their power to protect the people," he said.

Assistant Managing Editor Matt Harvey can be reached at (304) 626-1032, or by e-mail at mharvey@exponent-telegram.com.

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