West Nile Virus still a big concern in Georgia amid pandemic

West Nile Virus still a big concern in Georgia amid pandemic
A male (top) and a female (bottom) Aedes aegypti mosquitos are seen through a microscope at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation laboratory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 14, 2019. (MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images)

ATLANTA — At a time when health departments across Georgia are busy dealing with COVID-19, some are now being forced to take new measures to battle mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile Virus. DeKalb County is one of those that is no longer allowing public health workers to meet with homeowners face-to-face.

Before the pandemic, DeKalb County residents could walk their properties with a health department worker who would point out problem areas and show them how to prevent mosquitoes. Now those residents are being asked to stay inside and wait for an official report.

“We have a lot of activity in Fulton and DeKalb. It’s where most of our virus activity happens,” said Juanette Willis, the arbovirus coordinator for DeKalb County Board of Health.

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On Monday, Willis and her staff confirmed this year’s first human case of the West Nile Virus in the county. Health officials said the woman is in her 60′s and lives in the East Lake Terrace area of unincorporated Decatur.

Normally, workers would go door-to-door warning neighbors, but they aren’t doing that this year due to COVID-19.  Instead they’re using new measures to help residents. “In the past when we would get with the homeowner and take them around and dhow them now we’re doing it and we’re contacting them ahead of time and evaluating the yard, treating what we can and then sending them a written or telephone call to explain what we found,” said Willis.

She said despite reports of resource-strapped health departments across the country, DeKalb County is fully staffed and has not seen any delays in its testing or a decrease in staff.  “We actually hired staff specifically during the summer for this and then into the fall,” said Willis.

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According to DeKalb County, as of August 24th more than a dozen mosquitoes have tested positive for West Nile Virus in several cities.   “Human cases don’t typically happen until August, September and October,” said Willis.

But one confirmed human case is more than enough for many DeKalb County residents who told Channel 2 they aren’t taking any chances with mosquitoes this year.  “They say it’s the Minnesota state bird, but we are a close second,” said J.P. Mose who lives in DeKalb County.

Mose is a car enthusiast who spends a lot of time outside working on his classic cars.  He hired a company to spray his yard.  “I live on a small lake here and it’s in my backyard so, being near the water we are more susceptible to that and we’ve received notifications where we are in the area where it’s more concerning,” said Mose.

There are currently no plans for air assaults on mosquitoes that may be carrying the West Nile Virus, but DeKalb and Fulton County Health officials are setting thousands of larvicides, products used to kill larvae before they become biting adult mosquitoes.

“Around Fulton County we have catch basins. In the catch basins is where water may accumulate and when the water accumulates is where we go and treat them, which is approximately 13-thousand catch basins throughout the county,” said Edward Smith, Fulton County’s Interim Environmental Health Director.

“These mosquitoes prefer smaller containers. They like the saucers under your flowerpot. The black piping that everyone puts on their gutters,” said Willis.  “If you can eliminate the water sources in your area, then you can really minimize the mosquitoes in your area,” she added.

“Who is most susceptible to contracting this?” asked Channel 2′s Michael Seiden. “People with weakened immune systems and the elderly,” answered Willis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website lists the most common symptoms as headaches, fever, body aches, nausea, muscle weakness and in rare cases paralysis. But 80-percent of people infected with West Nile Virus do not develop any symptoms.

At this time, there is no data to suggest that mosquitoes spread COVID-19.  Since we still are learning more about the coronavirus, researchers will keep a close eye on this mosquito season.

Be prepared: Mosquito season is here, and so is the risk for West Nile Virus