Bird flu, West Nile virus, roundworm, hantavirus. It's enough to make a person sick. But should we be afraid? Zoonotics are diseases transmitted...

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Bird flu, West Nile virus, roundworm, hantavirus. It’s enough to make a person sick. But should we be afraid?

Zoonotics are diseases transmitted from wild animals to humans. It is easy not to get them, and if you want one, you really have to work hard at it. The “disease of the year” is rarely as lethal to people as it sounds in the news. The following are a few headliners:

West Nile virus is spread by infected mosquitoes to birds, horses and humans, causing inflammation of the brain. It first appeared in Washington in 2002 in a raven. A very small number of those bitten shows signs of illness. Birds, especially crows, ravens and raptors, are affected far more than humans; thousands of birds have died. Prevention: Dispose of mosquito-bearing water. See the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Web site, http://wdfw.wa.gov.

Raccoon roundworm is a parasite in the intestines of raccoons. It does not harm raccoons, but on rare occasions when people accidentally eat the eggs in raccoon feces, the larvae can migrate to the brain and cause serious disease.

Discourage raccoons from your yard, and avoid places where raccoons frequent and defecate, such as under decks or in unused attics. Do not keep raccoons as pets or attract them to your yard. For more information, see the state Fish and Wildlife Web site (or the disease page on www.cdc.gov to get thoroughly freaked out).

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a severe respiratory illness caused by a virus carried by deer mice. Humans are infected when stirring up large concentrations of droppings, such as when cleaning out nests. See the state Department of Health’s Web site, www.doh.wa.gov. We have very few deer mice on this side of the state, and they are so darn cute, it’s hard to get mad at them.

Bird flu (avian influenza): the disease of the year. To get it, a person must be in very close contact with infected birds for extended periods of time. The highly virulent form has not been found in North American birds. State and federal agencies are collaborating on a nationwide surveillance plan for early detection in our wild birds. More information on this at the state’s Fish and Wildlife Web site.

Despite the risks, don’t let these diseases discourage you from appreciating wildlife in your yard. Just respect animals, keep your distance and use common sense.

Patricia Thompson is a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

She can be reached at http://wdfw.wa.gov.