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West Nile Virus season is upon us

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The bloodsuckers are out in force, and now is the time to be most vigilant against West Nile virus.

Most cases of the disease occur in Georgia during August, September and October, state health data show.

"The increased numbers of mosquitoes we're seeing should be a signal to people to protect themselves," said Rosmarie Kelly, entomologist with the Georgia Division of Public Health.

One Paulding County man reported with the disease in July has recovered, health authorities said.

West Nile virus is spread to humans from the bite of an infected mosquito --- mostly by the Culex quinquefasciatus, or southern house mosquito. It prefers to dine at dusk.

By day, look out for the Asian tiger mosquito, which also can spread the disease.

Mosquitoes pick up the disease from infected birds, particularly crows and blue jays.

Last year, Georgia had 21 cases and one death from West Nile virus.

Across the country in 2004, there were 2,539 cases and 100 deaths.

As of last week, 22 states reported 187 cases and three deaths from the virus, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile illness can range from mild to life-threatening, when it overwhelms the central nervous system.

Most people --- up to 80 percent --- bitten by infected mosquitoes show no symptoms.

Of the people who do get sick, most experience flulike symptoms, headache, body aches, nausea and vomiting.

"The risk of any one individual becoming infected and suffering severe illness continues to be very low," said Dr. Stuart Brown, state public health director.

"But . . . it is impossible to predict how the virus will affect one individual to the next, who may have no symptoms, and who might become very, very ill."

Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes don't like too much rain.

Thunderstorms striking metro Atlanta nearly every afternoon help keep down the mosquito population because larvae are washed away, said Jerry Kerce, West Nile virus coordinator for the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness.

The first signs of West Nile --- dead birds and virus-laden mosquitoes --- usually are spotted starting in May.

Not so this year. Mosquito surveillance in five metro Atlanta counties --- Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Cobb --- found the first infected mosquitoes just last week in three Fulton County sites.

Mosquitoes love late summer in the South because their two favorite conditions are scorching heat and high humidity.

Recent flooding caused by Tropical Storm Dennis has left a flotilla of breeding surfaces.

"Clean out the gutters of your house and dump out anything with standing water," Kerce advises.

"The easiest way to avoid mosquitoes is don't invite them over."

And don't forget bug spray with DEET. It's the best defensive weapon against West Nile, health experts say.

"It was developed by the Army in the 1950s to help troops who would encounter all forms of insects," Kerce said.

"It worked then, and works today." ON THE WEB > Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: > Georgia Division of Public Health:

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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