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Early prevention encouraged with West Nile

ALBANY, Ga. -- Following a heavy West Nile season last year, public health officials are encouraging early prevention ahead of the 2013 season.

Jacqueline Jenkins, epidemiologist for the Southwest Public Health District, said that there have been no cases reported in the area so far this year -- but with the district's first case for the 2012 season having presented itself in July -- now would be a good time to start taking steps toward avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus.

Already this year there have been requests to area public health officials for larvicide.

"I don't know how the mosquitoes are, but I do know that folks are starting to see them in certain areas," she said.

"...Starting early is a sure way to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes."

Last year's activity was heavy, with 19 confirmed cases in the 14-county health district by mid-December, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. Three of those cases resulted in fatalities, two of which were in Dougherty County. Additional data available from the CDC shows that there were 78 cases reported in Georgia by Dec. 11, with 5,387 total cases reported nationwide.

Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and at dusk. When outdoor activity is necessary during that time period, officials recommend using insect repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient and wearing long sleeves and pants. The CDC further recommends that screen doors and windows be repaired if needed so that the bugs cannot enter the home, and to empty standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels so that they do not have a place to breed.

It is also advised that people change the water in pet dishes and replace water in bird baths weekly, and to drill holes in tire swings so water can drain out.

"(Mosquitoes) are a year-round issue here," Jenkins said. "If mosquitoes are out and biting, there is a sure chance some of them are carrying the virus. There is no (specific) treatment or vaccine. Prevention is the key.

"Even a couple of drops of standing water can spawn mosquito larvae."

Jenkins said that the activity generally peaks in October, with Southwest Georgia having a tendency to start earlier and end later in the year. There is no way to determine at this point how this year's activity will be or when it will start, she said.

Roughly 80 percent of people exposed to the virus show few to no symptoms. Some of the milder symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, fatigue, neck stiffness, swollen lymph nodes or rash -- with some of the more serious symptoms including paralysis, coma, tremors or convulsions.

Those with compromised immune symptoms, chronic conditions, young children and the elderly tend to be the most vulnerable to the disease, public health officials say.