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West Nile Virus found in Alabama

By WHITLEY KILCREASE

BNI News Service

Summer months bring heat and sunshine, but they also bring mosquitoes and the harmful diseases they can carry.

Alabamians are being urged to take caution since the Alabama Department of Public Health confirmed cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus in several counties in the state.

ADPH confirmed four cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in horses in Dallas County, as well as additional reports of cases in Elmore and Montgomery County, though these have not been confirmed through laboratory testing. A horse and four sentinel chickens, or analysis chickens, in Mobile County have tested positive for West Nile Virus. Baldwin County also reported three confirmed cases in sentinel chickens.

According to Dr. Dee W. Jones, veterinarian for ADPH, animals testing positive for these diseases means the virus is present in the mosquito population and could infect humans if bitten by infected mosquitoes. However, the virus can only be spread through a mosquito bite, not from another person or animal.

“With many people enjoying outdoor activities, it is important that residents take every effort to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes,” Jones said. “Keep your mosquito repellent with you at all times when you are working or participating in recreational activities outdoors.”

Mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile and EEE are picked up by mosquitoes after feeding on birds and spread by infected mosquitoes feeding on mammals. Humans and horses are particularly susceptible to these illnesses and can become seriously ill, though taking preventative measures can decrease chances of infection.

“The threat level for these diseases increases with mosquito population numbers and this time of year is when those numbers are higher,” Jones said. “This year we seem to be having clusters of diseases around the state, although it’s not all that uncommon.”

Jones said ADPH releases news statements, not to alarm residents, but to encourage awareness of preventative measures that can be taken against these diseases.

ADPH offers practical strategies for personal protection against mosquito-borne illnesses, such as clothing, aromatics and repellants, as well as advice for preventing mosquitoes around the home.

ADPH suggests wearing loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and avoiding the use of perfumes, colognes, and fragrant lotions or soap, which can attract mosquitoes. Residents are also encouraged to keep window and door screens in good condition, empty standing water and clean clogged gutters or sewers where mosquitoes breed.

“It is reasonable to assume that mosquito-borne viruses are likely circulating between mosquitoes and birds in many parts of the state,” Jones said. “Everyone should try to avoid exposure to mosquitoes.”

According to Jones, there have been no confirmed human cases of these diseases this year. ADPH monitors cases across the state with the help from doctors and veterinarians. Health care providers will report human cases to the health department while veterinarians report animal cases to the Department of Agriculture. Animal cases are then reported to the health department.

For more information concerning these diseases and other mosquito-borne illnesses, visit adph.org or cdc.gov.