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Mosquitos infected with the West Nile Virus show up in Lee County

Culex Mosquito
Getty Images/Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
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Culex, a large group of mosquitoes also known as common house mosquitoes, are the main ones that spread the viruses that cause West Nile fever, St. Louis encephalitis, and other viral diseases of birds and horses

Today, the same day that the first human case of West Nile virus was reported in Florida this year, health officials warned that sentinel chickens in Lee County have tested positive for the infection.

“If a chicken has antibodies against one of these viruses then we know that virus is circulating in the mosquito population,” said Imani Stafford, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Lee County. “The mosquitoes that transmit these viruses primarily feed on birds. Chickens do not become sick from these viruses and the viruses are unable to replicate in the chicken, therefore chickens cannot spread the virus to other mosquitoes.”

Someone near Daytona Beach in Volusia County has been infected with the virus, which is most often spread by a bite from a mosquito infected with West Nile. Most people do not develop any symptoms from the virus, however, about 20 percent of those infected will experience headaches, body aches, joint pain, diarrhea, a rash, or some combination of these typical reactions to a viral infection.

The last time someone was infected with West Nile in Lee County was in 2020.

Health department officials said Thursday that the threat of being bitten by an infected mosquito in Lee County has increased, both because the chickens kept in cages as an early-warning system of sorts have tested positive, and that July through September is the peak period for West Nile transmission in the Sunshine State.

Signs of a more severe bout with West Nile—a high fever, stiff neck, tremors, weakness, loss of vision—are most often seen in people over 60 years old. If that person also has conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, or kidney disease, or if they’ve received an organ transplant, they are at greater risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental U.S. About 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.

Prevention is key when West Nile begins to circulate as there is no vaccine or medication available to cure an infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers can alleviate symptoms.

No human cases of the West Nile virus had been confirmed in Lee County as of Thursday evening August 18. Officials with the Lee County Mosquito Control District will continue West Nile surveillance. They suggest the following prevention efforts:

• Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.

• Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.

• Empty and clean birdbaths and pet's water bowls at least once or twice a week.

• Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.

• Maintain swimming pools in good condition and make sure they are appropriately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

• Cover skin with clothing or apply mosquito repellent containing with DEET.

• Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves, especially if you work in areas where mosquitoes are present.

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