City and health department officials are again urging residents to take precautions with mosquitoes following a downtown Tuscaloosa resident’s recent diagnosis of West Nile virus.
A man living in Audubon Place was diagnosed with the illness in late August, and this prompted Original City Association President Kelly Fitts to send out an email alerting her neighbors.
Fitts said the diagnosis of her neighbor, who is now recovering at home, led her to warn downtown residents out of precaution.
“An infection can turn into encephalitis which has lasting harmful effects,” Fitts said in the email, “so please take this seriously.”
Tommy Dockery, director of emergency preparedness for the state Health Department’s West Central Alabama Public Health District, said he could only confirm that the department was investigating a possible case of West Nile virus in its 11-county region.
This region consists of Bibb, Chilton, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Perry, Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Sumter and Walker counties. Dockery said federal privacy regulations prevented him from pinpointing the county where the West Nile virus investigation is occurring.
He did, however, say no confirmed case of West Nile virus has been made within this region in 2018.
“Not that I’m aware of,” said the 23-year veteran of the department.
“One of the biggest things that people need to do is just prevention,” Dockery said.
That’s the message from City Hall, which is a reiteration of the precautions it urged last month after a Forest Lake resident contracted West Nile virus last year and the Mobile County Health Department said that seven sentinel chickens it uses to detect mosquito-borne diseases in the community had tested positive for the illness.
West Nile virus first appeared in the U.S. in upstate New York in 1999. It’s transmitted by mosquitoes that bite infected birds and then carry that illness to mammals, like humans and horses.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 20 percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito will develop a fever and other flu-like symptoms. And of these, about one out of 150 will develop a serious — and sometimes fatal — illness.
Although humans and horses can become ill from the infection, the disease cannot be spread from mammal to mammal, and taking steps to limit exposure to mosquitoes can help reduce the likelihood of contracting the illness.
In 2017, Forest Lake resident Joe Patrick almost died after contracting West Nile virus.
While waterfowl are less likely to carry the virus than other birds, like blue jays or robins, Patrick suspects he was bitten by a mosquito that had contracted the disease from the Muscovy ducks and Canada geese that reside around his neighborhood’s namesake.
In August, the city Environmental Services department launched an education outreach campaign to alert residents as to how mosquito populations can be diminished.
With the city’s fiscal 2018 hiring freeze reducing the amount of workers available to conduct regular mosquito spraying, these crews now respond to areas on a complaint-basis only.
City Hall spokeswoman Deidre Stalnaker said Audubon Place had not been sprayed for mosquitoes before the resident’s diagnosis, but Fitts said her neighborhood has been sprayed since.
Still, city and health department officials urge residents to make their own efforts to reduce mosquito exposure.
The CDC has a website — cdc.gov/features/stopmosquitoes — with tips on limiting exposure. The organization also recommends:
• Remove standing water where mosquitoes could lay eggs.
• Since mosquitoes lay eggs near water, make it a weekly habit to empty and scrub, turn over, cover or throw out any items that hold water, such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers or trash containers.
• Tightly cover water storage containers, like buckets, cisterns or rain barrels, so that mosquitoes cannot get inside to lay eggs. For containers without lids, use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
• Use larvicides to treat large containers of water that will not be used for drinking and cannot be covered or dumped out.
• For those with septic tanks, repair any cracks or gaps and cover any open vents or plumbing pipes with caps or wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
• Mosquitoes rest in dark, humid areas like under patio furniture, or under the carport or garage. Use outdoor insecticide sprays to kill them here.
Reach Jason Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0200.