Officials: Escambia County death not related to West Nile virus
By: Bill Crist
Special to the Advance
An 8-year old Brewton boy died earlier this week and local health officials are awaiting test results before confirming a cause of death.
Emilio Ryan Rivera, of Brewton showed symptoms that lead health officials to believe that he contracted viral encephalitis, which ultimately led to his death July 26. He was initially treated at D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital before being transferred to Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in Pensacola.
Ricky Elliott, environmentalist with the Alabama Department of Human Health, confirmed that there had been a fatality in the county and that the results had been sent to the Centers for Disease Control to determine what the specific cause of death was. Elliott said the symptoms the victim displayed were consistent with Eastern equine encephalitis.
Dr. Dan Raulerson, Escambia County Medical Examiner, said that the case was definitely not West Nile virus, but that results from the CDC would be necessary before any specific virus could be confirmed. He did confirm that viral encephalitis was the cause of death, but added that encephalitis had many causes.
Dr. John Mosely Hayes, epidemiologist with the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed that two cases of EEE were found in horses in Escambia County.
According to Elliott, those animals were euthanized in mid-July and submitted to the state lab for testing. The tests came back positive for EEE.
Eastern Equine Encephalitis is similar to West Nile virus, said Elliott. He said it was much more dangerous, though, with 30 percent of human cases resulting in death.
Like West Nile virus, EEE is mosquito-borne and in human cases will cause inflammation of the brain, fever and tremors, among other symptoms.
The Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed a fatality from WNV in Alabama on Monday. It was the first confirmed case this year. An 80-year-old Talladega County woman became ill in early July before dying recently.
According to published reports, an 81-year-old man was in critical condition at a Baldwin County hospital while another was recovering at home in Monroe County on Monday.
As of Monday, there were six confirmed cases of WNV statewide, including one in Baldwin County.
Eastern equine encephalitis has been detected in an emu in Butler County, sentinel chickens in Baldwin county and eight horses spread among Baldwin, Chilton, Clarke, Covington, Dale and Mobile counties, in addition to the two cases here.
"People shouldn't wait to hear about a possible case, they should always protect themselves," Hayes said.
He recommended that citizens contact their local government agencies to make sure there is an integrated mosquito control program in place.
An integrated control program involves making sure that mosquito breeding grounds are eliminated, that larvacide briquettes are used in ponds and other standing water and that a spraying program is in place.
According to Elliott, Escambia County and the cities here all have spraying programs in place. He said that the spray is effective for killing mosquitoes, but that it must come in contact with the mosquito to kill it, and that there is no residual effect from spray.
He also said the health department offices in both Brewton and Atmore still have a supply of Altosid larvacide briquettes that were purchased by the Escambia County Commission and the Escambia County Health Care Authority for distribution to the public. There is no charge for the briquettes and they can kill mosquito larvae for up to 30 days.
In addition, the Alabama Department of Public Health stresses that people should remember the five D's when it comes to mosquitoes; Dusk, Dawn, Dress, DEET and Drain.
"Avoid being outside during dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active," a department press release said. "Dress to cover your skin with protective clothing, protect bare skin with mosquito repellent that contains DEET and drain empty containers holding stagnant water."
According to the Health Department these two mosquito-borne viruses are not spread person-to-person, animal-to-person or animal-to-animal. A person or animal is infected through the bite of an infected mosquito.
The Health Department also said that many people who become infected never show signs of the West Nile virus and never actually get sick from it.
"Most people who are infected do not get sick," a department press release stated. "In some individuals, these viruses can cause a serious illness called encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. West Nile virus affects the elderly most severely and EEE is most severe in both the young and the elderly."
According to the CDC Web site, symptoms of EEE range from flu-like illness to frank encephalitis, coma and death. There have been 153 confirmed cases in the United States since 1964.
There is no licensed vaccine or effective therapeutic drug for humans, the site said. There is a vaccine that can be given to horses to prevent infection, though.
In 2002, Alabama experienced 49 cases of West Nile virus, including three fatalities.
Additional information about the two viruses is available on the Alabama Dept. of Public Health Web site at www.adph.org/westnilevirus.