"The main message we need to get across is this is still West Nile Virus season," said Logan Boss, public information officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health. "Even though we've been lucky in northwest Georgia and have not had any cases in our 10-county Northwest Georgia Public Health district, including Bartow, it is still a deadly disease and people need to take precautions to prevent getting West Nile Virus.
"Those two main precautions are eliminating potential breeding sites from mosquitoes by emptying water from various containers in and around their house and, No. 2, people need to use an insect repellent and proper clothing when they go outside to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. So the easiest and best way to avoid West Nile Virus is to prevent mosquito bites."
While the Northwest Georgia Public Health district does not conduct mosquito testing, more than 100 WNV-positive mosquito pools have been detected -- about 25 in the metro Atlanta area and around 90 in coastal Georgia.
"[Atlanta's media coverage is] talking about mosquitoes being tested and mosquito pools that show mosquitoes with West Nile Virus," Boss said. "Well, we don't do any of that in our 10-county northwest Georgia health district. We don't do any mosquito testing. We don't have the budget for it. A few places in Georgia do. They do it in metro Atlanta, and they do it in Savannah and it's primarily tourist-related there. We proceed under the assumption that West Nile Virus is here, been here since the first case was discovered in Georgia in 2001. We say it's endemic to our part of the world now. It's here, it's part of what we [refer to as] 'the new normal.'
"So everybody is a potential victim of West Nile Virus, which can kill you. Most people typically who are bitten by a West Nile Virus carrying mosquito only get the mild form of the virus, West Nile fever, but based on experience that can make you feel pretty rotten for a month or longer. And West Nile Virus itself can kill you. So people need to be aware of the fact that this is still West Nile Virus season. Typically we see our first cases in Georgia in June and July and indeed that's what appears to have happened this year with the first confirmed case," he said, adding the season ends when the first hard freeze kills the mosquito larvae.
Since 2001, there only has been one case of WNV confirmed in Bartow County, and 10 in the Northwest Georgia Public Health district. As of Thursday, a total of 240 cases have been verified in Georgia, resulting in 17 deaths.
According to a news release from Northwest Georgia Public Health, "Symptoms of WNV include headache, fever, neck discomfort, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a rash that usually develop three to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. The elderly, those with compromised immune systems or those with other underlying conditions are at greater risk for complications from the disease.
"Of those who become infected with WNV, most will fight off the virus without any symptoms or will develop less severe West Nile fever. But about one in 150 people bitten by infected mosquitoes will develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Approximately 10 percent of people with a severe form of WNV infection die from their illness, and others suffer from long-term nervous system problems."
Based on the symptoms of those infected and research into this year's strain of West Nile, North Georgia Public Health's Dr. Wade Sellers said the virus is "causing more serious central nervous system involvement than in past years." While many individuals are exposed to WNV without experiencing serious symptoms, Boss urges the public to take precaution because the virus can be fatal.
"A lot of people get West Nile and don't even realize they've had it because they don't get that sick," Boss said. "So we think in the 10 years since it's been discovered and confirmed as being in Georgia that a lot of people have been exposed to it and maybe not even been aware of it or have gotten slightly sick and so therefore have built up an immunity to it. So we're seeing decreased numbers, but it's still a disease that is out there that can kill you. It can be deadly."
Some of the precautions residents can implement include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants; avoid going outside when mosquitoes are most active -- dusk and dawn; applying insect repellent containing items DEET and Picaridin; empty containers containing stagnant water; clean swimming pools; clear gutters; and pierce holes in the bottom of recycling bins.
For more information, call Bartow County Health Department at 770-382-1920 or visit www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm.