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Florida detects this year's first human case of West Nile in Volusia County

Culex, a large group of mosquitoes also known as common house mosquitoes, are the main ones that spread the viruses that cause West Nile fever, St. Louis encephalitis, and other viral diseases of birds and horses
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Culex, a large group of mosquitoes also known as common house mosquitoes, are the main ones that spread the viruses that cause West Nile fever, St. Louis encephalitis and other viral diseases of birds and horses

State health officials have increased concerns that other people may become sick as Lee County becomes the latest county to detect the virus.

The state’s first reported human case of West Nile this year has been confirmed in Volusia County, according to the Florida Department of Health.

A person near Daytona Beach was infected with the virus, which is most often spread by a bite from the Culex mosquito.

Health officials have heightened concerns that other people may become sick, as Lee County becomes the latest county to detect the virus.

Sentinel chickens in Lee County tested positive for the infection, the county health department announced Thursday.

West Nile was previously detected this summer in Bay, Charlotte, Leon, Sarasota and Pinellas counties. July through September is the peak period for West Nile transmission in the Sunshine State.

Most people do not develop symptoms from the virus, however, about 20 percent of those infected will experience headaches, body aches, joint pain, diarrhea, a rash, or some combination of these typical reactions to a viral infection.

Signs of a more severe bout with West Nile — a high fever, stiff neck, tremors, weakness, loss of vision — are most often seen in people over 60 years old. If that person also has conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease, or if they’ve received an organ transplant, they are at greater risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the health department, mosquitoes that spread the virus primarily feed on birds. Sentinel chickens are placed at various locations, and mosquito control takes a blood sample from each chicken weekly.

“If a chicken has antibodies against one of these viruses then we know that virus is circulating in the mosquito population,” said Imani Stafford, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Lee County. “The mosquitoes that transmit these viruses primarily feed on birds. Chickens do not become sick from these viruses, and the viruses are unable to replicate in the chicken, therefore chickens cannot spread the virus to other mosquitoes.”

West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental U.S. About one out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.

Prevention is key when West Nile begins to circulate as there is no vaccine or medication available to cure an infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers can alleviate symptoms.

Officials with the Lee County Mosquito Control District will continue West Nile surveillance. They suggest the following prevention efforts:

• 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 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 make sure they are appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

• Cover skin with clothing or apply mosquito repellent containing DEET.

• Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves, especially if you work in areas where mosquitoes are present.

Copyright 2022 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Tom Bayles