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West Nile deaths reported in region

ALBANY, Ga. — Three deaths are among the dozen cases of West Nile Virus confirmed in Southwest Georgia this year, pushing public health officials to urge residents to take precautions against mosquitoes.

“There have been an unusually high number of West Nile cases across the country, and we are seeing the same trend here in our district,” said Southwest Public Health District Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant. “So far this season, we have had 12 confirmed cases, including seven in Dougherty, two in Lee, one in Early, one in Mitchell and one in Worth counties.”

Grant also said three deaths of older adults related to West Nile infections have been reported in the area in recent weeks. Two of the deaths were in Dougherty County, while the third was in Early County.

Grant also acknowledged that she was not immediately aware of the conditions of the surviving patients.

“Our sympathies go out to (victims’) families,” she said. “We wish there was a vaccine for this disease. Unfortunately, since we have no vaccine, the best protection is to avoid getting bitten by the mosquitoes that carry the infection.”

Grant said she would attribute this year’s spike in activity to the lifespan waves of birds as well as recent rains, which have presented more breeding opportunities for mosquitoes.

The health director also stressed that the three deaths in the district do not reflect a death rate.

“There may be those out there exposed that show no symptoms,” Grant said. “(With the deaths), we are talking about people who are more susceptible (to serious illness). There are certain people who are at higher risk.”

Officials offered a list of ways to reduce the risk of being bitten:

  • Avoid outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most active, at dawn and dusk;
  • Cover exposed skin if you must be outside;
  • — Use insect repellent with active ingredients such as DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin;
  • Drain standing water;
  • Repair screens.

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.

“The older you are, the more likely that you could get severely ill if you get infected. People who have received an organ transplant are also at higher risk for severe disease,” Grant said. “Young children and people with compromised immune systems are also at increased risk. One out of roughly 150 infected with West Nile Virus develop serious symptoms.”

There is no specific treatment for West Nile. People with severe cases are hospitalized and receive supportive care such as intravenous fluids and respiratory treatment, Grant said.

A horse in Seminole County has also been confirmed with the disease, Grant said.

As of Tuesday, a total of 1,118 human cases of West Nile have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tally is the highest count of human cases for this time in August since West Nile Virus was first detected in the United States in 1999, according to the CDC.

Most of this season’s cases have been reported in Texas, public health officials say.