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West Nile active in Georgia

ALBANY, Ga. -- Even though activity is not often seen until later in the year, Georgia has already had a human case of West Nile.

"This early case may indicate that this will be a busy season, so we are recommending south Georgia residents familiarize themselves with prevention measures now," Southwest Public Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant said.

The first Georgia case for this year was confirmed in a Clayton County man in mid-April by the Georgia Department of Community Health/Division of Public Health Acute Disease Epidemiology Section, roughly two months earlier than usual.

The early onset may be due to heavier-than-usual rainfall, but that is not known for sure.

"(The state) did not say why it was starting early," District Epidemiologist Jacqueline Jenkins said. "But, because we had a case earlier than usual, we want the public to familiarize themselves with prevention methods."

The Clayton County patient, who is expected to recover, is the only human case in the state so far. Usually Georgia sees its first case in June or July, with the peak being in August.

Even though the local health district was spared in 2009, the West Nile virus has claimed lives in the region before. It is a potentially dangerous mosquito-borne illness for which there is no vaccine. Last year, 722 human cases were confirmed nationwide -- 33 of which resulted in fatalities.

Georgia reported four cases, none fatal, last year.

"We haven't seen anything (in Southwest Georgia) yet, but with the rain, it would not be surprising to see something soon," Jenkins said.

Around 80 percent of those infected with West Nile show no symptoms; while up to 20 percent have symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a rash on the torso.

"West Nile can be a very serious illness," Jenkins said.

Those at risk of experiencing complications and severe illness from a West Nile infection include older adults, people who have received an organ transplant, young children and people with a compromised immune system. One out of roughly 150 people infected with West Nile develop serious symptoms. People with severe cases are hospitalized and receive supportive care such as intravenous fluids and respiratory treatment.

It usually takes two to 15 days for symptoms to appear after exposure.

While the illness may not last longer than a few days, healthy people have reported being sick for several weeks, reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state. There is no evidence that a person can acquire the virus from handling live or dead infected animals. The virus is unable to spread from person to person.

There is no specific treatment available for the West Nile virus, so officials recommend prevention as the best means of avoiding complications.

Ways to reduce the risk include: avoiding outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most active -- at dawn and dusk, covering exposed skin if outdoor activity is necessary, using insect repellent with active ingredients such as DEET (even if outdoor activity only lasts for a few minutes), draining standing water and repairing screens.