West Nile found in St. Clair County, local officials take notice

A case of the West Nile virus (WNV) has been confirmed in a bird in neighboring St. Clair County.

The dead bird, a sharp-shinned hawk, has alerted Shelby County health officials to the virus’ proximity to the county.

The first case reported in Alabama this year was a crow found in Coffee County, in the city of Enterprise.

The second and fourth cases were dead blue jays found in Mobile, and the third was the St. Clair County bird.

USDA Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Ashley Rossi Lovell is coordinating Alabama’s WNV surveillance project.

&uot;There are no human cases and no horse cases so far in the state in the 2002 season,&uot; Lovell said.

Although the discovery of WNV in Alabama is three months earlier than the first case detected last year, Lovell said the cases so far are not abnormal and should not cause extra worry.

&uot;It is not necessarily early to be finding dead birds,&uot; she said. &uot;It is normal for the virus to circulate among birds and mosquitos … it is an established virus.&uot;

Shelby County Extension Agent Ricky Colquitt confirmed there had been no cases yet this season in Shelby County but recalled the two cases found in the county last season.

&uot;I’m afraid (the WNV) is here to stay,&uot; he said.

The season for the West Nile virus, according to Colquitt, is anytime that mosquitos are active.

&uot;It can be as early as March and as late as early December,&uot; Colquitt said.

The West Nile virus is mosquito-borne and can affect horses as well as humans.

Lovell said the majority of people infected with the virus never even know they are sick.

The most susceptible people are those over age 60. He said those affected may have symptoms of encephalitis and require hospitalization.

Lovell said that detection of WNV lies in the public’s hands.

&uot;We’re very highly dependent on the public seeing the birds and reporting them,&uot; she said.

The species of birds most commonly affected by the virus are blue jays, crows and raptors.

There are a number of measures that citizens can take to prevent being bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus.

&uot;The biggest take-home point is that (the virus) is so widespread that people not living in those areas (with a confirmed case) shouldn’t be complacent,&uot; Lovell said