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Entomologist: West Nile threat real; rare

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POSTED: August 30, 2012 7:00 a.m.
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West Nile virus is transmitted to people by mosquito bites. It is not by person-to-person contact, nor is it contagious.

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About 80 percent of the people who are bitten by mosquitoes infected with the West Nile virus won’t develop any symptoms, according to Maj. Mark Potter, entomologist with Winn Army Community Hospital’s environmental health department.
He added, though, that the other 20 percent could show symptoms of the disease within 14 days, including fever, headache, body aches, nausea and swollen lymph glands. One in 150 people may even develop severe symptoms with permanent side effects, and some may die. People older than 50 are among those most at risk, he said.
“West Nile virus is definitely a disease,” Potter said. “It affects humans, mammals and birds. Birds are the main carriers of the virus. The virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected bird then bites a human.”
He emphasized that the virus is not spread by personal contact and is not contagious. You’re not going to pass West Nile virus to your coworkers like you might with a flu virus, he said.
“We have a program here at Fort Stewart to check mosquitoes,” he said. “They’re trapped then shipped to San Antonio, Texas, where they’re tested for the virus. So far, we haven’t had any cases of the disease in this area, although mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile virus near Garden City, about one mile from Hunter (Army Airfield).”
Potter said there are no vaccines for West Nile, explaining those people who have developed the virus are treated for the symptoms. He said the best way to avoid the virus is to avoid contact with mosquitoes by staying indoors and ensuring screens on windows prevent the insects from getting inside.
If you must go outside, he said you should always wear insect repellent and try to wear long sleeve shirts and pants.
“Only the female mosquito bites,” Potter said, explaining the insect does not drink blood but depends on it to lay their eggs. “Male mosquitoes don’t lay eggs, so that’s why they don’t bite. Even though it may be hard to believe, mosquitoes are an important part of the environment. They’re part of the ecosystem because they’re a food source for other animals.”
Potter surmised that even if we could destroy all mosquito populations, it would probably cause some other pest to move up and take its place, maybe one worse than the mosquito.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of Aug. 21, West Nile virus infections in people, birds or mosquitoes have been found in 47 states. A total of 1,118 cases, including 41 deaths have been reported to CDC.
Seventy-five percent of the cases reported have been in five states with the most in Texas. So far this year, 14 cases have been reported in Georgia, most near Atlanta or Albany.

 

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