Health department, in wake of West Nile, urges locals to take precautions

By on November 14th, 2012

dr_relling / flickr

Three potential cases of West Nile Virus have been detected as a result of blood bank testing, according to the Alachua County Health Department.

Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department, said his team was notified by the Florida Department of Health that three individuals who, in attempts to donate blood, showed antibodies to West Nile Virus.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s online library, many people who come in contact with mosquitoes infected with the virus do not know they are infected.

As for the three cases detected by blood banks, Myers said the individuals have made a full recovery but interviews and research are still taking place.

“The investigation is still ongoing,” he said. “What we are attempting to do at this point is to obtain further blood samples to confirm whether or not these infections are from the past or if they are relatively recent.”

Myers said there has been a significant amount of mosquito activity throughout the summer and it will not die down until Alachua County reaches very cold temperatures. And though there have been cooler temperatures, mosquitoes are still in the area.

“Our county surveillance is still detecting mosquitoes that have West Nile Virus and so we really urge our citizens to take precautions,” he said.

In a recent press release the Alachua County Health Department encouraged residents to drain all standing water, cover skin with clothing or mosquito repellent and cover doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out.

This year, Myers said, is the worst since 2003. There have been West Nile cases reported in Pensacola, Jacksonville and throughout the panhandle.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey disease map, 26 cases have been reported in Duval County and 14 in Escambia County.

Mosquitoes carry the highest amounts of the virus in the early fall, according to the online medical library. As temperatures decrease, so does the risk of disease.

“Even though cooler weather has reduced the mosquito activity really in terms of the numbers we’re seeing in our light traps,” Myers said. “We are not going to have a significant diminishment of threat until we have a really hard freeze and the mosquitoes are completely killed off.”

He said it is impossible to predict when this freeze will come and in the meantime to avoid going out during dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most prominent.

A major risk associated with West Nile Virus is that the symptoms are nearly identical to that of the flu. Myers said symptoms of the virus include: headaches, high fever and muscle aches.

“We have been educating our medical providers for the last several months to consider West Nile Virus in their differential diagnosis when they’re seeing patients,” Myers said.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, symptoms may occur one to 14 days after becoming infected and symptoms may last up to a month.

From the Alachua County Health Department:

The health department advises residents and visitors to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes that may cause encephalitis disease.  The department  continues surveillance and prevention efforts and encourages everyone to take basic precautions to help limit exposure by following the department of health recommendations. To protect yourself from mosquitoes, you should remember “Drain and Cover”:

DRAIN standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying

  • Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
  • Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren’t being used.
  • Empty and clean birdbaths and pet’s water bowls at least once or twice a week.
  • Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
  • Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

COVER skin with clothing or repellent

  • CLOTHING – Wear shoes, socks, and long pants and long-sleeves. This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present.
  • REPELLENT – Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.
    • Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with       DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535 are effective.
    • Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months old.

COVER doors and windows with screens to keep mosquitoes out of your house

  • Repair broken screening on windows, doors, porches, and patios.

Tips on Repellent Use

  • Always read label directions carefully for the approved usage before you apply a repellent. Some repellents are not suitable for children.
  • Products with concentrations of up to 30 percent DEET are generally recommended. Other US Environmental Protection Agency-approved repellents contain Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535. These products are generally available at local pharmacies. Look for active ingredients to be listed on the product label.
  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin, or onto clothing, but not under clothing.
  • In protecting children, read label instructions to be sure the repellent is age-appropriate. According to the CDC, mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of three years. DEET is not recommended on children younger than two months old.
  • Avoid applying repellents to the hands of children. Adults should apply repellent first to their own hands and then transfer it to the child’s skin and clothing.
  • If additional protection is necessary, apply a permethrin repellent directly to your clothing.  Again, always follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Florida Department of Health (DOH) continues to conduct statewide surveillance for mosquito borne illnesses, including West Nile virus infections, Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, malaria, and dengue. Residents of Florida are encouraged to report dead birds via the web site for Surveillance of Wild-bird Die-offs. For more information, visit DOH’s Environmental Public Health web site, or call the Alachua County Health Department at 352-334-7930.

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