No West Nile here – yet
Tracy L. Brady
Madison County Record
Mosquitoes may pose a bigger threat than just inflicting an itchy bite this year.
At least 46 confirmed cases of the West Nile Virus (WNV)-a potentially deadly type of encephalitis-have been reported in 11 Alabama counties this year. The virus, found in dead birds, has been reported in Baldwin, Coffee, Dale, Hale, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Mobile, Montgomery, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa counties.
No cases have been reported in Madison County.
The USDA Wildlife Service is conducting a WNV statewide surveillance project for the third consecutive year in Alabama. Wildlife biologist Ashley Rossi Lovell is coordinating the project.
"Crows, blue jays and raptors are actively being tested," Lovell said. "We look at the virus from many different angles because its cycles are so complex."
The project will examine the areas of human, veterinary, wild bird, sentinel chicken flock and mosquito surveillance.
WNV causes West Nile encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain caused by virus bacteria, and is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. While birds are the best indicators of WNV, Lovell said any animal a mosquito feeds upon is susceptible.
"Public awareness is key," Lovell said. "The reason we monitor WNV is the same as any other disease. It alerts health departments and the public to a potential problem."
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), southern states are more susceptible to WNV due to milder year-round temperatures.
In 2001, there were 66 human cases of severe disease and nine deaths in the U.S. caused by WNV. As of July 26, seven human cases of WNV infection have been reported. None were in Alabama.
Persons age 50 and older are at greatest risk of death from infection.
Mild infection symptoms include fever, headache, body ache, skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Sever infection symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, weakness, paralysis and, rarely, death.
CDC reports indicate less than 1 percent of those infected with WNV will develop severe illness.
Lovell said even though a case has not been reported in Madison County, the threat still exists.
"Everyone should assume it (WNV) is in every county in the state," Lovell said. "People shouldn't get hung up on numbers of infected dead birds found in a certain county."
According to Lovell, the surveillance system is heavily dependent upon the public because local health departments are typically busy with day-to day activities. Therefore, the public is encouraged to bag and bring dead birds to the health department instead of waiting for a health official to collect the carcass.
"Use a bag turned inside-out to pick up the body," Lovell said. "Turn the bag again and then place it in another bag. This way you never actually touch it. This is important because it's a dead animal, not because it will infect you."
According to Lovell, the most important role the public can play in the prevention of WNV is following a few simple preventative measures.
"Reduce your exposure and reduce the risk of infection," Lovell said.