Virus confirmed in county Officials say more West Nile cases likely

Officials have confirmed the first human case of West Nile Virus in Shelby County this year and say more will likely follow.

The local case was among a handful of cases confirmed Monday by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The department also announced the state’s first fatality from the virus this year with the death of an elderly woman in neighboring Talladega County.

A young girl tested positive for West Nile at a Columbiana clinic early this month, but officials said they were waiting on further tests to confirm that she had contracted the virus.

Jim Hollins, environmental director of the Shelby County Health Department, declined to update the status of that suspected case, nor would he say whether it was related to Monday’s announcement of Shelby County’s first confirmed case.

He also declined to pinpoint the area of the county where the first case was confirmed.

However, Hollins did say there are several other suspected human cases of WNV in the county on which tests are also being performed.

&uot;There are some other probable cases,&uot; Hollins said.

The mosquito-borne virus is contracted from infected mosquitoes and can’t be passed from person to person, or animal to person.

But WNV is not the only threat posed by mosquitoes, health officials say.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis has been detected in animals and mosquitoes in south Alabama and it’s feared the virus could spread throughout the state.

EEE tends to have a higher mortality rate than WNV, officials said, although the last human case in Alabama occurred in 1996.

Both EEE and WNV are contracted from mosquitoes and can cause a range of illness from no reaction to flu-like symptoms and in extreme cases, the potentially-fatal encephalitis.

WNV is most dangerous to the elderly while EEE is a threat to young as well as older populations, Hollins said.

The woman who died in Talladega County was in her 80s, officials said, as was at least one of the four human cases announced Monday.

In addition to Shelby County, human cases of WNV were also confirmed in Baldwin, Marshall and Monroe counties.

Hollins said those involved in the Shelby County cases appear to be recovering.

&uot;As far as I can tell, they are fine,&uot; Hollins said.

Health officials say the best way to combat the viruses is to avoid mosquito bites by following the &uot;five Ds of prevention&uot; &045; Dusk, Dawn, Dress, DEET and Drain.

&uot;Avoid being outside during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active,&uot; according to the ADPH. &uot;Dress to cover your skin with protective clothing. Protect bare skin with mosquito repellent that contains DEET and drain empty containers holding stagnant water in which mosquitoes breed.&uot;

Hollins said residents should continue to avoid mosquitoes until they are killed by the first freeze, usually in late fall.

But he warned that Alabama weather has a history of being unpredictable.

&uot;I’ve seen some years where mosquito-breeding didn’t stop,&uot; Hollins said. &uot;There was no hard freeze to stop the mosquitoes from breeding until January or February.&uot;

More information about West Nile Virus can be found on the ADPH website at www.adph.org/westnilevirus/