This summer has seen an increase in reported cases of West Nile virus across the South, and while Alabama hasn’t been hit as hard as other states, officials say people still need to be vigilant.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Alabama has reported six cases of the mosquito-borne illness, none of which hs been in north Alabama. No deaths from West Nile virus have been reported. But officials urge the public to take precautions.
West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes after they feed on birds. Those same mosquitoes can then infect mammals, particularly humans and horses, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Dr. Dee W. Jones, Alabama Public Health veterinarian, said limiting exposure to mosquitoes is the best defense.
“With many people enjoying outdoor activities, it is important that residents take every effort to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes,” Jones said. “Keep your mosquito repellent with you at all times when you are working or participating in recreational activities outdoors.”
Amy Seay, an infection preventionist at Shoals Hospital in Muscle Shoals, said there are other precautions above and beyond proper insect repellent that should be taken against mosquitoes. She urged residents to get rid of any standing water, which attracts mosquitoes and acts as a breeding ground. Other suggestions for protection include wearing long sleeves and long pants whenever possible and making sure window screens are in good shape to prevent mosquitoes from entering the house.
“Also, if you find a dead bird, do not handle it with bare hands,” she said. “The CDC recommends contacting the health department regarding appropriate disposal.”
The reported cases in Alabama have been in Mobile, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa counties, according to CDC reports. Texas has seen a much larger outbreak, with as many as 20 reported deaths and more than 450 reported cases, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Dallas County area has been particularly hard hit with 20 deaths and 167 cases.
Symptoms of West Nile virus vary in severity. In its most severe and least common form, symptoms can include a high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation or even coma, Seay said.
Convulsions, vision loss, numbness and paralysis could occur, she said.
According to the CDC, 80 percent of people infected do not show any symptoms and recover without treatment.
Mild symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, nausea and vomiting.
West Nile virus is confirmed through blood or cerebrospinal fluid tests.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.