A west nile virus alert has been issued in Leon County and the health department wants people to protect themselves from mosquitoes that carry it.
According to the Centers of Disease Control, west nile virus (WNV) emerged in temperate regions of Europe and North America. The most serious manifestation of WNV is a fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans and horses. WNV peaked in the United States from 2002 to 2003.
WNV was first detected in sentinel chickens in Leon County. The chickens are the first warning signs for WNV and other mosquito-borne viruses in the community.
Sentinel chickens in three different locations in Leon County have tested positive for WNV in the past two weeks: the chickens on Tyson road, chickens near the airport at Capital circle and Springhill road and chickens off Henry Jones road in Woodville, Fla., located just south of Tallahasssee.
“The chickens are used as a surveillance tool to determine whether we have mosquito bourne activity in the area,” said Glen Porciau who works with Leon County Mosquito Control.
Porciau said he draws blood from the chickens each week and the samples are then sent to a Department of Health lab in Tampa for analysis.
The first human case of west nile virus WNV has been confirmed in Leon county. The patient is a 22-year-old male resident of Leon County.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 150 people infected with WNV will develop serious illness. Symptoms include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. People should call their health care providers if they think they might have contracted WNV.
Peggy Jolley of the Florida Department of Health says that WNV is 100 percent preventable.
“People should take precautions against bites. With football season and nice weather, people are out in the evening when mosquitoes are likely to be biting,” said Homer Rice, an administrator of the Leon County Health Department.
The Leon County Health Department encourages residents to “drain and cover,” which means: Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying and cover the skin with clothing and repellent. Drain water from garbage cans, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flowerpots or any other containers where water has collected.
Discard old tires, bottles and cans that aren’t being used. Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves. Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.
The department also advises to cover doors and windows with screens because this will help to keep mosquitoes out of homes.
“We will continue to monitor the chickens for the virus,” said Rice. “The public should continue to be diligent in their personal mosquito protection efforts.”