County begins West Nile testing

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 2, 2003

Health agencies from around the state, including the Covington County Health Department, have begun the process of testing for the West Nile Virus.

According to Environmental Specialist Terry Kyser testing began on Thursday for his department, and other agencies in the state are slated to begin within the next month if they have not already begun the testing efforts.

"Right now we are testing only crows, jays and raptors," said Kyser. "If people know about other types of birds, though, we would definitely like to hear about those as well. Once we get two birds that test positive from a particular zip code we will quit collecting birds from that zip code."

Kyser said new test kits provided to health agencies in the state have translated into an improved method of testing.

"We are now able to do our own testing locally,"he said.

Kyser noted that his department has already received two reports about dead birds. "We can now test them locally instead of having to send (specimens) off."

He noted that in the past his department has had to send off specimens under refrigeration to laboratories in locales such as Wisconsin, Auburn University and the Alabama State Department of Public Health in Montgomery.

"With being able to test locally now, we are able to get quicker results, and we are also able to make quicker reports to our database," said Kyser. "People are also concerned and we are able to make test results known to them faster."

As far as the forecast for this year, Kyser said it could possibly shape up to be another active season in terms of the virus.

"We have been told to expect pretty much the same as last year," he said.

As far as tips for county residents in helping to avoid mosquito bites and possible exposure to the West Nile Virus, Kyser said the same cautionary tips apply as last year, in terms of wearing appropriate clothing when outdoors, using insect repellents with DEET and preventing the presence of standing water areas, which typically attract swarms of mosquitoes.

Kyser acknowledged that the recent concerns over the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has likely overshadowed concerns about West Nile.

"(SARS) probably has (lessened people's attention toward West Nile Virus)," said Kyser. "People need to realize, though, that the same things apply to West Nile this year as they did last year."

Some of those tips which Kyser and his staff continue to emphasize include:

Apply insect repellent containing DEET

to exposed skin whenever participating in outdoor activity.

When possible, wear long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors. Treating clothes with repellents containing permethrin or DEET will give extra protection.

The hours from dusk to dawn are peak mosquito biting times. Consider avoiding outdoor activities during these times, or take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing during evening and early morning.

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by getting rid of items that hold water.

Check to see if there an organized mosquito control program in your area.

"If we get to the point where there are several reports about dead birds in a particular area, then we might have to think about putting some type of added spraying program in place," said Kyser.