Health officials urge West Nile prevention

Dougherty County Public Works Environmental Control Manager Donell Mathis sets up a mosquito trap in Albany near Lockett Station Road and Oakridge Drive Tuesday in an effort to control the pest.

Dougherty County Public Works Environmental Control Manager Donell Mathis sets up a mosquito trap in Albany near Lockett Station Road and Oakridge Drive Tuesday in an effort to control the pest.

ALBANY, Ga. — With a 64-year-old man in Dougherty County recovering from the first reported case of West Nile virus in Southwest Georgia this year, officials with the Southwest Public Health District are working to push awareness of the mosquito-borne illness.

All that can really be done to prevent being bitten is to eliminate areas of standing water — which is where mosquitoes breed — as well as limiting the time spent outdoors during certain hours and using insect repellent, officials say.

Unofficial test results for the Dougherty County patient were reported to public health officials on Friday, indicating the patient had been exposed to the virus. The results have since been confirmed.

The patient remains hospitalized but is improving, public health officials said Tuesday.

“This highlights the need for precaution,” said Jacqueline Jenkins, epidemiologist for the Southwest Public Health District. “(Prevention of the disease is achieved) by eliminating mosquito breeding areas.

“They breed in man-made containers in anything that holds one drop of water.”

In addition to dumping standing water, officials recommend that tight screens be used on doors, reduction in the time spent outside during dawn and dusk — when mosquitoes are most active — and using repellent with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Last year, 712 human cases of West Nile virus were confirmed in the United States, including 43 deaths. Traditionally, activity peaks in August.

Eighty percent of those infected with West Nile show no symptoms, while the 20 percent of patients who get sick have symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a rash.

It usually takes two to 15 days for symptoms to appear after exposure to the infection. Symptoms usually last a few days, but healthy people have been known to have the illness for several weeks, public health officials say.

The older a person is, the more likely he or she is to get severely ill. People who have received an organ transplant are also at higher risk of developing severe disease, public health officials say, as well as young children and those with compromised immune systems.

No vaccine for West Nile currently exists, nor is there a specific treatment for the disease. Those who are hospitalized receive supportive care such as intravenous fluids and respiratory treatment, officials say.

Regions other than the Albany area have begun to see mosquito-borne illness activity. Officials from the South Health District have reported that, for the fifth time this summer, a mosquito sample tested positive for West Nile in Lowndes County.

On July 2, the same district also reported that officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health had confirmed a case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, another mosquito-borne illness, in a horse in Lanier County.

“There is not one particular area (or county) that’s at higher risk,” Jenkins said. “Mosquitoes are equal opportunity. If they are out there, they can bite.

“Over the last couple of years, we (the Southwest Public Health District) have had a minimum number of cases. This was expected. It’s not unexpected to have a positive case.”

Donell Mathis, environmental control manager for Dougherty County Public Works, said that mosquito activity has in fact been lower this year due to there being less rain.

“It’s not as bad as it has been (in previous years), but because of the lack of rain, it (the mosquito activity) has been about as expected,” Mathis said.

“We have had two really good years. We have had less complaints this year than last year at this time.”

Setting out traps, treating water as well as spraying are among the methods used to control the mosquito population in the area, Mathis said.

As of July 10, which excludes the case from Dougherty County, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reporting 15 confirmed and probable human cases of West Nile this year. Of those, three reportedly developed clinical illness.

No U.S. deaths have been reported so far this year as a result of the disease, the CDC says.