Officials await test results on Shelby County girl Initial testing positive for West Nile

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Officials are awaiting test results in a suspected case of West Nile Virus in a Shelby County girl.

Initial tests performed on a young girl at a Columbiana clinic last week were positive for the virus, said Jim Hollins, environmental director of the Shelby County Health Department.

&uot;Once you get a positive test for West Nile, you have to do certain other testing (to be sure it is the virus),&uot; Hollins said.

The first human case of WNV in the county can not yet be confirmed, Hollins said, but the virus’ presence in Shelby County is certain.

&uot;It is here,&uot; Hollins said. &uot;We know that because we have had positive birds.&uot;

A dead crow tested positive for WNV in late May, the first evidence of the disease in Shelby County this year.

WNV is a mosquito-born disease that, in certain populations, can cause encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain infection.

It is spread when infected mosquitoes bite birds, animals and people. The disease can not be passed from human to human or animal to human however.

Hollins noted that most people who contract the virus show little or no reaction.

The few who do experience a reaction may experience flu-like symptoms.

The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk for developing encephalitis, he said.

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Health Department continues to test birds for the virus. Hollins said testing is now done locally on dead birds reported to the department.

Tests are performed on dead Blue Jays, crows and birds of prey.

The Shelby County Emergency Management Agency continues to do its part to prevent the spread of the disease by spraying for mosquitoes in unincorporated areas.

Municipalities are also getting involved.

The city of Pelham, which has been plagued with flooding problems in recent months, has fought to prevent an environment favorable for the insects.

With a saturated ground and lots of standing water, Pelham may appear to be mosquito-friendly, but city officials say the little blood-suckers are anything but welcome there.

The city purchased some 10,000 mosquito larvacide briquettes two years ago to help prevent Pelham from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

The briquettes, which look like little doughnuts, are distributed for free at the Pelham Water Works building behind city hall.

Director of Public Works Ken Holler said he hasn’t noticed an increase in mosquito complaints this year but added that recent weather conditions have favored the insects.

&uot;I’m sure they’re worse than previous years simply because we’ve had so much water.&uot;

Holler said city crews routinely use hand-held foggers to attack mosquitoes &uot;where they live,&uot; such as storm drains and marshy areas.

While working daily to combat mosquitoes, city officials say they’ll take all the help they can get from Pelham residents.

&uot;If you walk out in your backyard and you get covered up with them, we need to know this,&uot; Holler said. &uot;And we’ll try to do whatever it takes to get rid of the pesky little scutters.&uot;

But WNV may not be the only threat posed by mosquitoes.

The state health department issued a statement last week urging residents to avoid mosquito bites and eliminate mosquito breeding sites.

&uot;Avoiding mosquitoes this year is especially important because at least two different viruses are being spread by mosquitoes,&uot; health officer Dr. Donald Williamson said in the release.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis, another mosquito-borne virus, has been detected in horses and birds in south Alabama.

&uot;The Eastern Equine Encephalitis, that’s the most severe of the mosquito viruses,&uot; Hollins said. &uot;We know its here (in Alabama) and it’s traveling on in.&uot;

There has been no evidence of EEE in Shelby County yet this year.

Hollins said that unlike WNV, EEE is more likely to hospitalize someone who contracts it because the encephalitis causes an inflammation of the brain