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Health officials ready to battle WNV

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
With two cases of the West Nile virus already discovered in Alabama, health officials are working to inform the public about the disease and to curtail the number of mosquitoes which are the carriers of the disease.
While both cases of the virus were discovered in northern Alabama counties - Winston and Calhoun - local officials feel it is only a matter of time before it makes its way to Escambia County. In fact, the Escambia County Health Department has started testing birds. They ask that if residents find dead blue jays, crows and raptors, which consists of owls, hawks and other predators, that they bring them to the health department for testing.
Both of the discoveries were found in birds. One was a blue jay and the other a blackbird. This year's first detection of West Nile comes three weeks earlier than the first case last year.
The Escambia County Health Department has not tested any birds yet. But, officials say that does not mean the disease is not in the area.
In 2002, the virus was discovered in birds in each of Alabama's counties. Several horses and humans also tested positive in other counties, but not in Escambia.
In all, 49 people tested positive for West Nile last year. Five of those people were in the Mobile area. While many people do not get sick, it can be a health risk for the elderly and young children.
Mosquitoes spread the virus by feeding on the blood of infected birds and later biting a person or another animal. The disease cannot be spread from person to person.
The health department, Escambia County Commission and the City of Brewton have each begun working to curtail the number of mosquitoes in the area. The health department and county commission are working together on a larvacide program while Brewton officials have been spraying for mosquitoes regularly.
But, Mitchell said no matter what they do, mosquitoes will continue to reproduce and grow in numbers. He said that is why it is important for residents to do their part in making their homes safe.
While humans may not have been infected as of yet, the discovery of West Nile in birds is the first sign that the virus is active.
Health officials say the best way to avoid West Nile is to avoid its carrier - mosquitoes. The Department of Public Health released the following tips to help avoid mosquitoes:
Personal protection: clothing and aromatics
Personal protection: repellents
Personal protection: around the home
If someone finds one of the birds dead they can call the Escambia County Health Department at 867-5765 and make arrangements to get the bird tested. People should not touch the birds with their bare hands, but should use rubber gloves or a plastic bag. The health department also has some Altosid larvacides briquets which can be placed in ponds and other pools of water to kill mosquito eggs.
County residents may obtain larvacide briquets for ponds, drainage ditches and other standing bodies of water at the health department.