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Capt. DEET teaches West Nile prevention

By Ed Brock

The sight of Captain DEET brought a smile to Cynthia Howard's face.

"It's funny," 26-year-old Howard said about the Clayton County Board of Health's poster promoting West Nile virus prevention.

"DEET is neat, West Nile is Vile" the poster proclaims next to a brightly colored picture of the West Nile Virus Caped Crusader.

"Primary colors. It's different," Howard said, still admiring the poster as she sat in the waiting room of the Forest Park Health Center.

The health center is one of around 35 places where the Captain DEET posters are available, and Howard's smile is exactly what Walter Howard, Clayton County's District Environmental Health Director, wants to see.

"We wanted to do something playful that would catch people's attention," Howard said.

There haven't been any human cases of West Nile virus in Georgia so far this year, but it's just as important to get the message out. The disease, which spread down from the north after first appearing in New York City in 1999 is still out there somewhere, Clayton County epidemiologist Wayne Ford said.

"It's endemic now," Ford said.

That's not to mention the other mosquito-borne diseases. And Captain DEET, conceived of by county employee Joe Ivey and drawn by Jeff Bucchino, specializes in educating the public on preventing mosquito breeding and bites.

"The best way to prevent is personal protection," Ford said.

At the same time, they want to de-emphasize the search for dead birds that has been used to track the virus that kills that species as well.

"Birds aren't the problem, birds are just a symptom," Ford said.

But that doesn't mean the county's Environmental Health Department doesn't want reports of dead birds that are not decayed and that show no signs of dying for another reason, such as being shot.

An entomologist with the state's health department has also been tracking the virus in the county's mosquito population, and Howard said the county's central services have done an outstanding job spraying to kill adult mosquitoes and putting larvacide in places like abandoned swimming pools and anywhere else mosquitoes breed.

On the poster, Captain DEET first encourages most adults to use insect repellent containing the chemical DEET while cautioning them not to use DEET on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding nor on very young children.

The poster also instructs the reader to avoid outdoor activities at times when mosquitoes are active, to wear light-weight, loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and to eliminate standing water near their home.

"You're never going to get rid of mosquitoes. All you can do is reduce the number of mosquitoes in your area and protect yourself," Howard said.

The Captain DEET poster was so attractive to Cynthia Howard that she said she would bring some back to Murry's House, a personal care facility where she works. On the billboard at the Forest Park Health Center hang several pictures of the superhero character that were colored by children as they waited at the center.

"Some take them home and some stick them up here," said nurse practitioner Marlynn Jones.

Down Forest Parkway at Forest Park City Hall the poster is having an impact, receptionist Jean Langley said.

"People have been reading it," Langley said. "He draws attention because he's bright and looks like Superman."