West Nile virus found in Covington County

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 29, 2002

Covington County is the latest in a host of Alabama counties to experience a finding of the West Nile virus.

The Alabama Department of Public Health announced Friday that two blue jays found dead in Andalusia on July 16 and a common grackle found dead in Opp on July 15, tested positive for the West Nile virus.

Although these are the first birds with the virus found in Covington, 65 other dead birds infected with the encephalitis virus have been located in 21 counties throughout the state this year.

Ongoing public health surveillance for the virus has detected no infections in horses or humans in Alabama to date. Mosquitoes which tested positive for the West Nile Virus were recently collected in traps in Enterprise

Mosquitoes are commonly found in urban and suburban communities as well as rural areas and they will breed readily in storm sewers, ditches, waste lagoons and in containers around houses.

209 birds from 36 counties have been tested for WNV as of July 16, and mosquito surveillance will be increased with the detection of the positive findings. Tests from other counties in the state are currently pending.

State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Bill Johnston said the findings should not necessarily translate into reason for residents to panic.

"Most people who are infected with (the virus) do not even get sick. However, a small proportion of people, mostly people over 60, may become ill with symptoms of encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain, and require hospitalization," said Johnston.

Terry Kyzar, who is Environmental Supervisor for the Covington County Health Department, said there is no reason for residents to be alarmed, but they still should take proper precautions against mosquitoes.

"We are letting people know that this is something to be aware of," said Kyzar. "The best thing people can do is to make every effort to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes."

Last year in Montgomery, not a single case of the West Nile Virus was reported until August, while this year, already 21 cases have been confirmed in the month of July alone.

A dead crow also recently tested positive for the West Nile virus, prompting city officials to increase spraying of insecticides to kill mosquitoes.

The rash of findings of West Nile should serve as a reminder to take every precaution possible against mosquitoes, especially during the current hot conditions which mosquitoes tend to thrive in.. These include:

Wear loose fitting , light colored clothes to help prevent mosquitoes from reaching the skin and to retain less heat, making yourself less attractive to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are more attracted to dark colors.

When possible, wear long sleeves and long pants.

Avoid perfumes, colognes, fragrant hair sprays, lotions and soaps, which attract mosquitoes.

Follow the label instructions when applying repellents. Permethrin repellents are only for clothes, not for application on the skin.

When using repellents avoid contact with eyes, lips and nasal membranes. Use concentrations of less than 10 percent when applying DEET-containing products on children. Apply DEET repellent on arms, legs and other exposed areas, but never under clothing.

After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.

Citronella candles and repellents containing citronella can help, but their range is limited. Herbals such as cedar, geranium, pennyroyal, lavender, cinnamon and garlic are not very effective.

People should also remember the following tips to ensure personal protection around the home:

Mosquito activity peaks at dusk and again at dawn; restrict outdoor activity during these hours.

Keep windows and door screens in good condition.

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

Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so empty all water from old tires, cans, jars, buckets, drums, plastic wading pools, toys and other containers.

Clean clogged gutters.

Remove the rim from potted plants and replace water in plant/flower vases weekly.

Replenish pet watering dishes daily and rinse bird baths twice w ekly.

Fill tree holes and depressions left by fallen trees with dirt or sand.

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