West Nile cases finally drop in Georgia, but virus still a danger

The number of West Nile virus cases, which has been alarmingly high, is finally declining in Georgia.

State officials said this week that while August saw 18 cases of West Nile, there were just six cases in September. Overall, Georgia reports 37 cases of the disease this year, with five deaths.

Department of Public Health officials told GHN that the state may still have a few more infections this year.

West Nile virus is commonly spread by infected mosquitoes, and the weather has been conducive to their spread.

“The early wet summer causes mosquitoes that transmit it to proliferate,’’ said Chris Rustin, director of Environment Health for Public Health. And with the warm autumn continuing, he added that “right now, we have the climate for mosquitoes. People need to practice prevention’’ of bites.

He said mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus get the disease from biting infected birds.

Georgia had just seven cases of West Nile last year, and no confirmed deaths. But in 2012, there were 117 infections and six deaths.

There are no vaccines to prevent West Nile and no medications specifically to treat it.

Fortunately, most people infected with the virus do not have symptoms. But in some cases it can be very dangerous. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms, and about 1 in 150 develop a serious, sometimes fatal illness, according to the CDC.

West Nile virus can cause febrile illness, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

West Nile was first reported in the United States in New York in 1999. It spread quickly, with Georgia reporting its first death in 2001. The next year was the state’s worst so far, with seven deaths, the Savannah Morning News reported recently.

The CDC says that as of October 10, 47 states and the District of Columbia have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes in 2017. Overall, 1,295 cases of West Nile disease in people have been reported to CDC.

Georgia’s five deaths exceed those of any other state but California (13) and Arizona (also five), according to the CDC.

Mosquitoes that carry the virus are more likely to bite during the evening, night and early morning.

Georgia Public Health officials Wednesday urged people to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

Georgians can reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes and yards by getting rid of standing water, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that may be infected with West Nile and other mosquito-borne diseases, according to Rustin.

Public Health offered tips to prevent mosquito bites:

** Dusk/Dawn – Mosquitoes carrying West Nile usually bite at dusk and dawn, so avoid or limit outdoor activity at these times.

** Dress – Wear loose-fitting, long sleeved shirts and pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin.

** DEET – Cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, which is the most effective mosquito repellent.

** Drain – Empty any containers holding standing water because they are excellent breeding grounds for virus-carrying mosquitoes.

** Doors – Make sure doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly, and fix torn or damaged screens to keep mosquitoes out of the house.