West Nile Virus season starting early

Published 6:24 am Friday, May 7, 2010

Last year the pandemic H1N1 virus dominated the news, but this year Georgia has already seen a human case of West Nile Virus—roughly two months earlier than usual.

“This early case may indicate that this will be a busy season, so we are recommending South Georgia residents familiarize themselves with prevention measures now,” said Southwest Health District Health Director Jacqueline Grant.

The first Georgia WNV case for 2010 was confirmed in a Clayton County man in mid-April by the Georgia Department of Community Health/Division of Public Health Acute Disease Epidemiology Section.

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So far, it is the only human case in the state, said Jackie Jenkins, the director of epidemiology and surveillance for Southwest Health District.

“Usually Georgia sees its first case in June or July,” Jenkins said. “The WNV season typically peaks for us in August.”

Although Southwest Health District was spared in 2009, West Nile Virus has claimed lives in the region in the past.

“West Nile Virus is a potentially dangerous mosquito-borne illness for which we have no vaccine,” Jenkins said. “Last year, 722 human cases were confirmed nationwide. Thirty-three fatalities occurred.”

Georgia reported four cases, none fatal, during 2009.

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, Grant said.

“Those at risk of experiencing complications and severe illness from a West Nile infection include older adults, people who have received an organ transplant, young children and people with a compromised immune system,” she said. “One out of roughly 150 infected with West Nile virus develop serious symptoms.”

There is no specific treatment available for West Nile Virus.

“People with severe cases are hospitalized and receive supportive care such as intravenous fluids and respiratory treatment,” Grant said. “The best protection is to avoid getting bitten.”

Ways to reduce the risk include:

 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

For more information about West Nile Virus, go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org. Additional information is available at www.cdc.gov.