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West Nile announcement is annual FYI

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Attempting to attract the public's attention without causing public panic, the Clayton County Board of Health announced this year's discovery of mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus.

"We want people to know that the virus is out there," said Veronda Griffin, the spokeswoman for the board, on Wednesday, the day after the announcement. "We're not trying to alarm people, too much. This basically is just education for people."

The county had some mosquitoes test positive for the virus last year, too. There have been regular, annual reports of infected mosquitoes in the Atlanta area since health boards started catching and testing mosquitoes in 1999 and 2003.

In Clayton County, there are 16 mosquito traps. The mosquitoes found in the traps, carrying the West Nile Virus in 2007 and again in 2008, were Southern House Mosquitoes. The breed does not normally feed on humans. The nuisance breed of mosquitoes, the one known in this area for feeding on people, is the Asian Tiger, according to Rosemarie Kelly, an entomologist who works with the county's Board of Health. None of the Asian Tiger mosquitoes have been caught carrying the virus in Clayton County.

Kelly told the Clayton News Daily at the time of the 2007 West Nile Virus announcement, that the Southern House Mosquitoes were unlikely to pass the virus to humans, since the breed feeds on bird blood.

Some Georgians have tested positive for the associated West Nile Virus diseases every year between 2001 and 2007, however. The number of infected people in the state has fluctuated between six and 50, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, an 80-year-old man died in Clayton County from the West Nile Virus. In 2004, the county had three people contract the mosquito-borne disease.

According to the CDC, though, the virus is only serious for about one out of every 150 people who contract it. The virus is unlikely to cause any disease in a healthy adult, or anyone with a strong immune system. Of the reported 413 cases in the United States, so far this year, there were five associated deaths.

The CDC reported that for more than 50 percent of people contracting the disease, symptoms involved nothing more than a fever. The experts also noted that percentage is probably underestimated, because people with even milder symptoms probably never went to a doctor.

Given the low level of the risk associated with the virus, and the minimal likelihood anyone will contract it from Clayton County's infected, bird-biting mosquitoes, Griffin said the Board of Health's announcement amounts to a reminder.

"Be mindful," she said. "Even though it's getting to fall, the mosquitoes are still out. The season goes through October."

Mosquito season in Georgia lasts from May to October. Nine years after the West Nile Virus was first detected in the United States, it is considered to be established here, and the virus can be expected to re-emerge annually as a low-level, public health hazard.

"The mosquitoes are going to be there, because of the climate we live in and the weather we have," Griffin said.

All the announcements about West Nile in the Atlanta area have come in July, August and September, along with advice to not leave water stagnant and standing, wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and socks at dawn and dusk, and use DEET, a mosquito repellent.