Just what is the West Nile Virus?

August 30, 2006

Albany - - Many Southwest Georgians are on alert after a Dougherty County man died from the West Nile Virus. Georgia's only two confirmed cases of the mosquito-transmitted virus are both in Dougherty County.

We've heard a lot about the West Nile Virus, but not many people know exactly what it is. "This area is a wet area and we were dry for a significant portion of the summer and then we had a lot of rain. It's hot, it's warm, it's a place where mosquitos would breed," says Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

That's how you get it, from a mosquito bite. But you can have the virus and not even know it. "In most people, it causes no symptoms of all. In 80% of people, there are no symptoms."

Less than 20% of the time, people can have headaches, fevers, and flu-like symptoms. Less than 1 percent of the time, symptoms can include stiff neck, vision loss, and death. But health workers say don't panic if you're bitten by a mosquito tomorrow.

"I certainly wouldn't want that person to freak out and run to the emergency room. Even if you have some mild symptoms, that's not a reason to rush to the emergency room."

Dr. Grant says if you experience prolonged symptoms like high fevers and headaches that won't go away, or if you become disoriented, that's when you should see your doctor. At that point, he or she can perform a blood test or examine your spinal fluid.

Within three to 15 days of the symptoms, the doctor will usually know whether you have the virus.

"My hope though is that we can end this right now and only have two cases in Dougherty county for this season and there are no other cases."

Tomorrow, health experts from the county and state will meet with the public to educate you about West Nile and how to make sure you stay safe.