Duval County has been under a mosquito-borne illness alert since the summer, but the Health Department is now confirming two more people have been infected with West Nile virus and there has been one reported death associated with a confirmed case of the virus.
So far this year, 28 confirmed cases have been reported, but this is the first reported death associated with the virus. A 60-year-old man who was the 15th case this year, reported in August, had a pre-existing condition, health officials said. They said he did not die because of the virus, but it was a complicating factor in his death.
While mosquito season is coming to a close, cases of West Nile are still being reported. Mosquito Control techs are still out spraying regularly, and they encourage residents to be doing the same, despite the cooler weather.
"Now that I've heard that there are cases right now, I'll be thinking about it more and taking more precautions," one mother who took her children to a park said Wednesday.
The most recent cases involve a 66-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman.
"It's hard to tell where West Nile is going to surface," said John Shellhorn, head of Duval County Mosquito Control. "We've had years in the past we've had extremely high mosquito count and no arbovirus activity. The arbovirus is generated locally by infected birds passing through the area. The local mosquitoes bite the birds and then being able to infect humans."
Shellhorn said that historically, the number of mosquitoes drop before Thanksgiving. He said the number is dying down, but this year his crews are still heading out to spray areas every night.
"What we'll try to do is get information from the Health Department on the general area, and then we activate our teams, we go out to that area, we inspect, we look for potential sources, we try to determine the type of, specia of mosquitoes in that area," Shellhorn said.
There's no vaccine for West Nile and there's no treatment for it. Experts say the best thing is to just always be proactive, especially for those who live near or are going to be around any standing water. People should wear clothing that protects and covers their body and use repellant.
"For the most part, in Florida the mosquitoes are seen as a pest type of an issue, but when you have West Nile or cephalitis in the area, people really need to take that seriously and take all the measures that they can to protect themselves," Shellhorn said.
These latest cases of West Nile have hit Duval County late in the mosquito season, indicating the insects are still around and residents shouldn't let their guard down just yet.
"We are so self-conscious about water standing in our property that it's so unusual to see mosquitoes, but this week went in our bathroom and there's four of them on the ceiling," Shirley Hall said. "And I take care of a 10-year-old granddaughter, and she got two more in the house, which was very alarming."
Shellhorn said the number of mosquitoes counted in the area this year nearly doubled from last year because of the tropical storms that came through earlier this year. Water levels have been extremely high and in marshy areas, where mosquitoes like to lay eggs.
The Mosquito Control Division is even getting some help from Federal Emergency Management Agency for all the resources used to kill off the large number in the county this year.