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Clayton man first Georgia victim of West Nile in 2007

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Board of Health officials confirmed on Thursday the West Nile Virus caused the death of an 80-year old Clayton County man.

It is the first case of a person in Clayton County having West Nile since 2004, said Board of Health spokesperson, Veronda Griffin.

The man, who lived in the northeast part of the county, died at a local hospital early last week. However, health officials have declined to identify the victim, the city in which he lived, the exact day he died, or the hospital where he died.

Last month, several mosquitos carrying the virus were discovered in Forest Park.

"We were saddened to learn of this death and we offer our condolence to the family," said Dr. Stephen Morgan, the Board of Health's director, in a statement.

Reports of Georgia residents contracting the West Nile Virus have more than doubled from last year. There have been 20 cases this year, including two that were confirmed in Gwinnett County on Thursday morning. There were nine cases, including one death, reported in 2006.

As of Tuesday, some 1,400 cases of the virus were reported in 38 states. The CDC says around 40 people nationwide have died from the virus this year.

The symptoms of West Nile Virus are headaches, fever, neck discomfort, muscle and joint aches, swollen Lymph nodes, and a rash. In some cases, the virus can cause a person to develop encephalitis, or meningitis. People 50 and older, and people with weakened immune systems, are more likely to get sick from the virus.

As many as 20 percent of people who contract the virus develop symptoms, according to the CDC, and it usually takes 3 to 14 days to develop symptoms.

West Nile Virus was first discovered in the United States in 1999, in New York, and then spread across the country. People can get the virus by being bitten by mosquitos that received it from infected birds. Mosquitos breed in bodies of water that have been stagnant for at least four days.

The mosquitos found to have West Nile in Clayton County last month were Southern House Mosquitos. The insects thrive when the air is drier and is more likely to carry the virus. Southern House Mosquitos, unlike the Asian Tiger Mosquitos, are less inclined to bite humans, although they do feed on people from time to time.

"Mosquitos are breeding more right now because the environmental conditions are perfect for breeding," Griffin said. "We've had very hot and dry conditions this year, and then we've had a lot of rain in the last few weeks."

Griffin urged Clayton County residents to use caution while engaging in outside activities. She said the state is still at the peak of West Nile season, which typically lasts until the first frost of fall. In 2006, the first frost occurred in late October, she added.

"People should limit the amount of time they spend outside; wear long sleeve shirts and long pants; use mosquito repellent when they go outside, and dispose of any standing water they have at their home," Griffin said.

Other recommendations from the Board of Health include keeping swimming pools clean and chlorinated; using Mosquito Dunks, which is a larvicide used to kill mosquito larvae, and repairing all holes in screens that cover doors and windows.

Anyone with concerns about the virus can contact the Clayton County Board of Health's Environmental Health Department, at (678)610-7199, ext. 6500.