West Nile virus a growing threat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 10, 2002

The recent outbreak of the West Nile virus in Louisiana, where the virus was confirmed to have infected 58 persons so far and killed four, has finally infected the first human in Alabama. The first confirmed case this year in Alabama is a 71-year old man in Dale County.

First discovered in the U.S. in 1999, the virus has been attributed to 22 deaths.

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon says the city is taking every precaution against the virus.

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"We were already spraying three nights a week, but we have stepped that up to four nights. We're also looking to eliminate standing water," he said.

The virus is spread by mosquitoes who reproduce in standing stagnant water. Mosquitoes infected with the virus have been caught in Enterprise, Ala. and recently infected bird were found dead in Andalusia, Ala.

Milton Luckie, head of the city's street department says that they are alternating spraying half of the city per night. They spray the insecticide Malathone from Monday to Thursday from 10 p.m. until midnight.

"It's supposed to be some of the best and we've used it for over 20 years. Of course, if anyone is allergic to it, we will work with them not to come into their area," said Luckie. "We're also looking to get rid of standing water areas. I know we need rain, but the lack of it has helped keep the standing water down. We just want to encourage everyone to clean out anything they may have holding water."

Luckie says the city has just ordered another 55 gal. drum of the insecticide, which costs $31 per gal.

"We don't want to be caught short should there be a need," says McLendon.

Since the first finding in 1999, the virus has been found in more than 30 states and it is spreading south and west, reaching Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma among other states this year.

It has been reported that eight people in Texas and 22 in Mississippi are currently sick with West Nile encephalitis.

The West Nile virus, a type of encephalitis, causes inflammation in the brain.

An epidemiologist leading a team currently assisting health officials in Louisiana said the West Nile virus and the St. Louis encephalitis, both mosquito-related viruses are genetically very closely related.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), whenever a mosquito bites an infected bird, it ingests some of the virus. West Nile and similar viruses have evolved with the mosquito and can get through the insect's stomach lining and into the body after a few days. Once in the body, it multiplies in the blood, saliva and elsewhere. Once in the saliva, it moves into whatever the mosquito bites.

The CDC also recommends the following measures be taken to minimize exposure to mosquitoes:

o Restrict outdoor activities between dusk till dawn.

o Keep windows and door screens in good condition.

o Replace porch lights with yellow light bulbs that will attract fewer insects.

o Clean clogged gutters.

o Stock ponds with mosquito fish or use larvicide "doughnuts".

o Wear long sleave shirts.

o Avoid perfumes and colognes which often attract mosquitoes.