West Nile found in Southern Alabama

Published 7:47 am Wednesday, July 23, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
When the first case of West Nile virus in a human was confirmed, it brought the issues of mosquito control and protection home, especially as the victim was from Geneva County.
"This first human case of West Nile virus infection in 2003 is, unfortunately, not unexpected, given the increasingly widespread level of West Nile virus activity, making it all the more important that people take precautions to reduce their chances of being bitten by a mosquito," Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer, said in a press release.
The virus may be transmitted to birds, humans and other mammals by mosquito bites, but a bite does not always cause illness.
"About 1 percent of the mosquitoes have it, and about 1 percent of the people bitten by that 1 percent will get (the virus)," said Steve Mitchell, environmental supervisor for Escambia, Conecuh and Monroe counties.
According to the Web site for the state health department, the majority of people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will feel nothing more than the bite itself, even if they become infected. Others may experience fever, headache and body aches, sometimes with skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Severe infections are marked by a variety of symptoms, including high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation and/or stupor, coma, tremors and convulsions, paralysis and rarely, death.
Frightening as that may be, West Nile is not the only mosquito-borne virus that should concern residents.
There is also evidence of eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis activity in the area.
Human infection with eastern equine encephalitis may lead to mortality rates as high as 30 percent, Williamson said, far higher than that seen with West Nile. Infection in horses is accompanied by death rates of up to 80 percent in unvaccinated animals.
"It's out there," Mitchell said. "We know it's out there, it is just a fact of nature that this area is blessed with a lot of encephalitis."
He went on to say that West Nile makes quite an impact further north because the residents there are not as familiar with it as are those areas that have an extended mosquito season.
Mosquito control has become the focus in avoiding the diseases in humans.
Spray works in populated areas, but is not a viable alternative in large rural areas like Escambia County.
"Escambia County is huge," Mitchell said. "We would need an army with helicopters or airplanes to spray it all."
Instead, there are ways in which to stop larvae from becoming adult mosquitoes.
Residents may go by the county offices or satellite offices and pick up sustained release mosquito growth regulator briquettes.
The briquettes are designed to release their ingredients over a 30-day period and keep larvae from becoming mosquitoes.
The brick is placed in ditches or other small areas of shallow, slow-flowing or non-flowing water. One briquette will treat about 100 square feet.
The satellite office in Atmore gives each family two bricks. That amount should be enough for the worst of mosquito season.
"It's worst in July and August," Mitchell said.
The virus is often found in birds found dead by residents.
To have a bird tested, health officials tell residents to wear rubber gloves or insert hands in a plastic bag before picking up any dead birds. Health officials will only test jays, crows, or raptors, such as hawks or owls. The birds must be freshly dead for the virus to be found.
If a bird is found and needs to be tested, you may take it to the satellite office or call 368-9188.
If the bird is not one of the types tested, Mitchell suggests handling it carefully with no direct contact, and disposing of it in a trash receptacle or by burying it.

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