West Nile virus human case under investigation in Miller County

Published 1:17 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2012

COLQUITT, GA – A suspected human case of West Nile virus is being investigated in Miller County, say disease investigators with Southwest Health District, while a horse has been confirmed with the mosquito-borne infection.

“Our sympathy goes out to the family and friends of the patient,” said Miller County Health Department Manager Darleen Cox. She emphasized that the HIPAA Privacy Rule – part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – prohibits Public Health from providing information that would identify patients.

Last season four human cases of West Nile virus – none of which were associated with fatalities – were reported in Southwest Health District. So far this season, three West Nile virus-related deaths have been confirmed in the District, said District Epidemiologist Jacqueline Jenkins.

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The cases are showing up throughout the District rather than clustering in a single area, Jenkins said. The breakout for confirmed human cases is: seven cases in Dougherty, one in Lee, one in Worth, one in Mitchell and one in Early counties.

“In addition, we have had two horses confirmed with West Nile virus, one in Worth County and one in Miller County, and one horse confirmed with another mosquito-borne illness, EEE, or Eastern Equine Encephalitis, in Thomas County,” Jenkins said.

“With so many cases covering such a broad area, who a patient is and where they reside is of less concern than the fact that this is a widespread problem. Mosquitoes carrying the infection don’t pay attention to city limits or county lines,” said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus.  People with severe cases are hospitalized and receive supportive care, such as intravenous fluids and respiratory treatment, Grant said.

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, she said. One out of roughly 150 infected with West Nile virus develop serious symptoms such as swelling of the brain, coma or death.

“The older you are, the more likely that you could get severely ill if you get infected. People who have received an organ transplant are also at higher risk for severe disease,” Grant said. “Young children and people with compromised immune systems are also at increased risk. So are pregnant women.”

Grant continued, “We wish there was a vaccine for this disease. Unfortunately, since we have no vaccine, the best protection is to avoid getting bitten by the mosquitoes that carry the infection.”

Ways to reduce the risk of being bitten 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