Officials worry West Nile virus might hit Georgia this year : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Officials worry West Nile virus might hit Georgia this year

By Erin McClam The Associated Press

ATLANTA - State health officials are worried that West Nile virus, the mosquito-borne disease that has killed nine people in the Northeast, will spread to Georgia this year.

"I think there's a very good chance we'll see it by the end of the summer," Catherine Rebmann, a state epidemiologist, said Friday. "I'm actually surprised we didn't have it last year."

The virus first appeared in the United States two years ago, spread by mosquitoes and sickening birds in the Northeast. It has been detected as far south as Maryland.

In Georgia, experts say breeding conditions for mosquitoes will be ideal this year after several consecutive dry summers. State health officials believe West Nile will use the bugs to continue its southward trek this summer.

A state West Nile task force is planning a public-relations sweep for later this spring, pleading with the public to take steps to help suppress the mosquito population.

Officials hope to get the word out through television, radio and newspapers, and they plan to distribute brochures at businesses that cater to people who spend lots of time outdoors.

West Nile, often carried by birds, is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes after they bite infected animals.

"The main message is to dump out standing water around the home," Rebmann said. "(Mosquitoes) breed in old tired, water paths, any standing water around people's yards."

Researchers in Alabama have begun testing dead birds from across the state but say the virus has not yet been detected.

In Glynn County along the Georgia coast, residents are already being asked to report dead birds to the local health department. They also are being encouraged to use extra mosquito repellant.

Most people infected with West Nile display either no reaction or become ill with flu-like symptoms. The elderly and people with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

In addition to the nine reported deaths, the virus has sickened dozens of people in the Northeast.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 27, 2001

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