West Nile Virus

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Each year there are more West Nile Virus cases reported nationwide, over 2,000 in 2004.

Eighty eight people died from the illness, and now it appears West Nile is making an early visit to the Panhandle.

Jackson County health officials are reporting the first case of West Nile Virus for the 2005 season.

Bill Dean of the Jackson County Health Department, says, “We had a sentinel chicken from our from our flock in Malone, the prison there show positive for West Nile Virus."

Normally the West Nile season starts in June, but it's here early this year, thanks to a wet spring and an active mosquito population.

"We're seeing a lot of mosquito activity in our county because of all the rainfall and the flooding we've had in the last few months."

The best line of defense against West Nile is to attack its source: mosquitoes. County officials are spraying pesticides all over the region.

Ken Martin the facility manager, says, "We'll spray for about two hours each night until the sun's all the way down and it's completely dark. The type of mosquitoes we have here normally stop biting after dark."

But you can't count on the county to do all of the work.

"Here's a few things you can do to protect yourself against mosquitoes and the spread of West Nile."

Avoid going outside from dusk till dawn. That's when mosquitoes like to feed. If you have to be outside during these times it's a good idea to where long sleeves.

Keep a good insect repellent handy; health officials recommend that you get one containing the chemical deet.

And the most important thing you can do is get rid of any standing water. You don't want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

"The potential for breeding mosquitoes is phenomenal. A discarded coffee cup sitting on the side of the road will breed thousands of mosquitoes.”

If you're a horse owner, make sure your animal is vaccinated. The USDA says a-third of the horses that contracted West Nile 2001 died from it.

Health officials also say a large amount of dead birds is a sign that the disease in the area.

If you see any dead birds in your area you can contact your local health department or report it online at www.wild-florida.org/bird.