West Nile virus has made its way across North Florida through the Panhandle and Jacksonville in the last few weeks. The virus has now been detected in two sentinel chickens in Alachua County. No human cases have been reported.
“We had detected the virus across north Florida to the Panhandle all the way to Jacksonville, so it appears that it is starting to move south a little bit,” said Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers. “This is predictable. This is a late summer-, early fall-type of disease.”
Myers said the virus detection is significant since chickens are the county’s best indicators for the virus.
“The virus, while it does infect them, doesn’t kill them,” he said. “The virus replicates in their blood system very readily.”
Anthony Dennis, Alachua County Health Department’s environmental administrator, said chickens play a vital role in the prevention and detection of West Nile.
As an arbovirus, it’s transmitted from infected birds like chickens to mosquitos, then to other animals and humans.
Blood samples from sentinel chickens are sent to a Tampa lab once a week during mosquito season, Dennis said. Any samples detecting West Nile must be reconfirmed before results become public.
Dennis said in addition to chickens, the county also monitors mosquitos regarding population and species type. He says certain species like vector mosquitoes present different risks.
“That’s what we have occurring now: We have a large number of mosquito populations, we have the vector mosquitos, and now we’re seeing transmission,” he said. “So everybody needs to be aware and take precautions.”
Although the mosquito-bourne disease is preventable, Alachua County residents should follow precautionary measures.
Mosquitos breed in standing water, so residents should make sure areas like flower pots, boat covers, gutters and swimming pools are drained often and maintained properly. Even a small amount of standing water can be dangerous, Dennis said.
“Anything that can hold water for a period of a week or more can breed hundreds of mosquitos,” he said.
Mosquito repellent, wearing proper attire and being cautious during dusk and dawn can also help prevent contracting West Nile.
Right now, avoiding being bitten should be everyone’s top priority, Dennis said. West Nile can present symptoms including headache, fever, dizziness and fatigue and could lead to severe neurological symptoms. Anyone experiences any of these symptoms should contact a physician immediately.
Kelly Price edited this story online.