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    County begins West Nile Virus preventions

    May 2002. Spring is expected to bring back more than azaleas. Last year’s arrival of the West Nile Virus to the metro Atlanta area is still fresh in the minds of public health officials, and the warmer weather heralds the return of the mosquitos that can transmit the disease from infected birds. BUZZ OFF: County Extension Service Agent Nina Eckberg demonstrates a key step in getting rid of mosquitos: eliminating standing water which serves as a breeding ground. Less than 1 percent of mosquitos carry the West Nile Virus, and the chances of you becoming severely ill are less than 1 percent. Prevention – such as emptying bird baths and clogged gutters – reduces the risk even more. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Now the good news: the chances of catching the illness are really, really small. Less than 1 percent of mosquitos carry the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even if you are bitten by one of those mosquitos, the chances of you becoming severely ill are less than 1 percent. Even better: residents can help reduce the risk further through prevention. “The biggest thing is source reduction. That’s what we recommend,” Cobb County Environmental Health Director Murl McCall said. “Eliminate standing water.” Almost anything that will hold water for one week – old tires, birdbaths, clogged gutters – can be a breeding ground for mosquitos, officials point out in a new informational pamphlet. By eliminating standing water from containers or treating them with larvicide (available at some hardware stores), residents can destroy the mosquito population more effectively than spraying pesticide for the adults. County Extension Agent Nina Eckberg pointed out that a female mosquito can lay large numbers of eggs at a time in standing water, but most breed within 300 yards of where they are found. “If you can eliminate standing water in your area, you can be safe,” she said. The county is taking measures to help lower the risk to the public even more. This month, Stormwater Management officials are checking for any standing water within a 300 yard radius of senior centers and retirement homes, and then placing larvicide in the ones on public property. Officials are distributing the pamphlets to the centers and homes, while the Cobb Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department is checking county parks for any problems with standing water. “We’re doing a coordinated effort,” McCall said, noting they are also working with city governments on the issue. Residents should protect themselves with mosquito repellant containing the ingredient DEET. Children should use repellent with 10 percent or less DEET, while adults can use up to 30 percent DEET. Infants or pregnant women should not use DEET. Senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems are most susceptible to the serious infections of West Nile Virus. Those people who start experiencing the symptoms of high fever, severe head and body aches, nausea, confusion, muscle weakness or paralysis should consult their healthcare provider immediately. Mild symptoms can include fever, headache, swollen glands and/or a rash. The Cobb-Douglas Health Department is surveying area hospitals and doctors for any signs of people infected with West Nile virus. Fulton County had the only documented case of a human infected with the virus in the metro Atlanta area last year. The county also wants help from the public to document cases of dead birds in the area. While officials will only pick up and test birds that have died within 24 hours, they will document other cases to see if there are areas of increased bird fatalities. The birds officials are collecting blue jays, crows or raptors, such as owls, hawks or eagles. If officials do not need to test a bird you find, the bird can be disposed of by double-bagging it and placing it in the trash or burying it two to three feet deep. Please contact the health department’s West Nile hotline at (770) 514-2432 to report a dead bird. The automated hotline can also answer further questions you have about the virus.
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