Keeping Safe From West Nile

September 12, 2007

Albany - - People in South Georgia learned all they need to know about West Nile Virus at a community meeting district health leaders organized Wednesday evening. Already, there have been three confirmed cases in South Georgia this year and 18 statewide. Health leaders say those numbers will grow if people aren't educated about the disease.

At 73 years old, Martha Bearden can make a yard look just right. Cutting shrubbery and maintaining her flowers is like a hobby.

"I just like to get outside," she says.

But she's careful when she does it since we're in the West Nile season.

"It's not good for older people to have it."

Public Health officials put on a West Nile 101 forum to inform people of that. Attendees learned all about the virus and that the only way you can get it is from a mosquito whose come in contact with the virus, usually from a dead bird. Health experts gave plenty of tips on how to protect yourself. 

"If you wear a good repellent with at least 35 % DEET, you're protecting yourself if you get bit by a mosquito," says Jacqueline Jenkins with Public Health.

But just because you get a mosquito bite tonight or tomorrow, that doesn't mean panic.

"Only 20 % of the population actually get sick with symptoms and it's usually the older population that is at higher risk and persons with other pre-existing conditions are also at risk," Jenkins says.

If an infected mosquito bites you and you don't develop any symptoms, you're probably just fine, experts say, and the virus will just work its way out of your system.

Folks like Bearden are taking all the precautions.

"I stay inside when it starts to get dark. I don't come outside at night," she says.

She also tries to keep her windows closed unless they have functioning window screens because...

"Mosquitos can get in your house," Bearden says with disdain.

So protecting yourself can save your life.

The recent lack of rain actually helped keep the mosquito population down. When it does rain, experts say be sure to get rid of standing water around your home.

Also, if you're in need of window screen repair, the Health Department offers assistance for those who qualify.