More human cases of West Nile virus confirmed in Duval, Nassau counties

Department of Health issues warning amid heightened concern

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A second human case of West Nile virus has been confirmed in Nassau County and a fifth case has been confirmed in Duval County, bringing the total human cases in Northeast Florida counties to seven.

Health officials began issuing alerts last month after cases were confirmed in Duval and Nassau counties.

Officials with the Florida Department of Health said that there is heightened concern that more people could become ill after more human cases were confirmed in both counties.

Some Nassau County residents told News4Jax that the mosquitoes have been terrible.

"Mosquitoes have been bad out here," said Mandy Conners, who lives in Yulee. "Luckily our kids are back in school and, hopefully, they’re indoors throughout the day and, on the weekends, they’re taking precautions to wear bug spray and long sleeve shirts. I know it’s kind of hot for that now, but anything we can do to cover our kids up."

While other Nassau County residents said they haven't noticed the mosquitoes, most residents were worried, which is why they said they're taking precautions. 

"It does makes me nervous," said Robin Nemeth, who lives in Fernandina Beach. "I work out in the yard a lot and I always put on bug spray. Whether it’s morning, noon or night, I always put it on because they like me."

Health officials cautioned Northeast Florida residents not to focus on the specific location of West Nile virus cases as the mosquitos that can spread West Nile virus can travel five or more miles and birds infected with West Nile can go even farther.  

In August, officials with the Department of Health in Duval County issued warnings about the potential spread of mosquito-borne diseases after West Nile was found in several sentinel chicken flocks.

The Department of Health in Nassau County issued similar warnings in June after Eastern equine encephalitis virus was found in horses in the county. 

Since the beginning of 2018, four cases of EEEV infection in horses in Nassau County, and one outbreak of EEEV in emus, were reported.

Ten sentinel chickens have tested positive for EEEV in 2018, one tested positive for Highlands J Virus (HJV), and 21 tested positive for West Nile virus, Nassau County health officials said.

West Nile virus is a potentially deadly infection that can be transmitted to humans, according to the health department.

Last year, there were no reported cases of West Nile virus in Nassau or Duval counties. The last time there was a major outbreak of West Nile virus in Northeast Florida occurred in Duval County in 2012 when there were 29 cases and one person died.  

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Below is a list of some of the things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Drain standing water from garbage cans and any other items around the house that can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
  • Check to see if the screens on your doors and windows are in good shape. If they're not, repair any broken screens as needed to keep the pests out of your house.
  • Keep your swimming pool clean and make sure it has the right level of chlorine. If you've got a plastic swimming pool, empty it when it's not in use.
  • Cover up your exposed skin with long pants and long sleeves. This is important, particularly for people who work outdoors or where mosquitoes are found.
  • Be sure to apply mosquito repellent to bare skin. Products containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon, eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol and IR3535 are effective.
  • If the county doesn’t spray where you live, you can always call a private pest control company to come out and spray the outside of your home. Some companies even offer event spraying and will treat your yard before a backyard barbecue or whatever you have planned. 

For more information on what repellent is right for you, health officials encouraged residents to consider using the Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool to help choose skin-applied repellent products: http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/#searchform.

The Department of Health continues to conduct statewide surveillance for mosquito-borne illnesses, including West Nile virus infections, Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, malaria, chikungunya and dengue.

Residents of Florida are encouraged to report dead birds via the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s site -- http://legacy.myfwc.com/bird/default.asp. For more information, visit DOH’s website at http://www.floridahealth.gov/%5C/diseases-and-conditions/mosquito-borne-diseases/index.html or call your local county health department.

Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of infectious diseases for UF Health and Wolfson Children's Hospital, said avoiding mosquitoes is really your only protection from West Nile virus.

"Dawn and dusk are the two times when the mosquitoes are most active, so avoid those times, but I think anything you can do to prevent mosquito bites would greatly decrease your chance of getting West Nile," Rathore said.

By and large, most people infected with West Nile do not experience any symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But about one in five may develop a fever resulting in symptoms ranging from headaches to vomiting and diarrhea.

"That’s the thing about West Nile," Rathore said. "Maybe about 20 percent will have fever, flu-like -- that’s all they will have.They’ll feel sick, body aches and such a very small percentage will have more serious things, which include neurological problems."

In rare cases, the CDC states, those infected with West Nile may come down with a serious illness affecting the central nervous system, such as encephalitis or meningitis. Symptoms include high fever, vision loss, paralysis, tremors and coma.

Currently, there is no vaccine available to treat West Nile virus. But, according to the CDC, over-the-counter pain medication can help treat fever and other minor symptoms. Those with severe illnesses are encouraged to seek medical attention.

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