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West Nile Virus Confirmed In Mobile County Sentinel Chicken

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Mobile County Health Department reports that a sentinel chicken in the Citronelle area has tested positive for West Nile virus (WNV). This is the only case confirmed that has been confirmed this year in Mobile County.

WNV is transmitted from bird to mosquito to bird. Mosquitoes can spread these viruses by feeding on the blood of infected birds and then biting another host animal or mammal such as a human or a horse. Dr. Bert Eichold, Mobile County Health Officer, says people should assume that there are mosquitoes in their communities that are infectious for diseases such as WNV, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), and other mosquito-borne viruses, and that the risk of encephalitis spread by mosquitoes is highest from August through the first freeze in the fall.

He also says it is extremely important that people taking part in outdoor activities take every effort to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes and should keep mosquito repellent with them at all times when outdoors. Mosquito activity, he says, peaks at dusk and again at dawn.

"People who develop encephalitis as a result of being infected with the West Nile virus often have symptoms of high fever, severe headaches, confusion, and seizures that are severe enough to require medical attention," Eichold says. "Encephalitis, which is an infection of the brain, can cause permanent injury or death."

Although humans and horses can become ill from the infection, the diseases cannot be spread from people or horses. The likelihood of transmission to humans and horses can be decreased by personal mosquito avoidance and the use of a WNV and EEE vaccine in horses. There is no vaccine available for humans. Eichold advises all horse owners to have their animals vaccinated against WNV and EEE and to call their veterinarian immediately if signs of encephalitis are observed. Clinical signs vary, but they include depression, staggering, uncoordination, stupor, hyperexcitability, paralysis, and coma.

WNV and EEE can be more dangerous to people and other mammals than other mosquito-borne viruses. However the same mosquito-prevention measures reduce exposures to all such viruses. Mosquito bites can be treated with topical agents such as calamine and menthol lotions. Cortisone creams and oral antihistamines are available as over-the-counter medications that can reduce itching. Children with secondary infections resulting from bites should be treated by a physician.

For more then 20 years, the Mobile County Health Department's Vector Control Department has been monitoring encephalitis in sentinel poultry flocks strategically placed throughout the county to detect the presence of viruses carried by mosquitoes. Additionally, mosquitoes are trapped throughout the county and tested for WNV, EEE and St. Louis Encephalitis.

The Vector Control Department suggests taking the following precautions:

* Eliminate mosquito breeding sites by emptying all water from old tires, cans, jars, buckets, drums, plastic wading pools, toys, and other containers.

* Because mosquitoes are more active at dusk and dawn, try to limit outdoor activities during these times.

* Use a good mosquito repellent on exposed areas. Some of the most reliable repellants contain the chemical DEET. Repellents containing DEET in concentrations up to 30 percent can be used on children as young as two months. All repellants should be used in accordance with label instructions.

* Apply repellent on arms, legs, and other exposed areas, but never under clothing. After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.

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* Long sleeves and long pants used with a mosquito repellent help to limit bites.

* Wear light-colored clothing because dark-colored clothing may help attract unwanted insects.

* Wear a light-colored hat or a cap.

* Be aware that scented cosmetics may also attract insects.

* Mosquito bites can be treated with calamine and menthol lotions. Cortisone creams and oral antihistamines are available as over-the-counter medications that can reduce itching. Bites to children should be watched for secondary infections that might need to be treated by a physician.

* Citronella candles and repellents containing citronella can help, but their range is limited. Herbals such as cedar, geranium, pennyroyal, lavender, cinnamon, and garlic are not very effective.

* Keep windows and door screens in good condition.

* Replace porch lights with yellow light bulbs, which will attract fewer insects.

* Clean clogged gutters.

* Remove the rim from potted plants and replace water in plant vases weekly.

* Replenish pet watering dishes daily and rinse birdbaths weekly.

* Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating fish.

* Fill tree holes and depressions left by fallen trees with dirt or sand.

Rake and bag or mulch fallen leaves (especially sturdy magnolia leaves), which can curl and hold water in which mosquitoes to breed. Do not blow leaves into the storm drain or put grass clippings into drainage ditches. Clogging the drains and ditches will only add new mosquito breeding sites close to your home.