Catching a virus: Two of five samples test positive for West Nile

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vidalia Street Department Director Lee Staggs sets up a mosquito trap with a net and dirty water to attract the insects Tuesday afternoon in Vidalia. Two area tested positive for West Nile virus when sent in for testing last week, and Staggs and crew members of the Street Department will continue to test until they receive negative results.

VIDALIA — Two of the five pools of mosquito samples sent by the City of Vidalia for testing last week tested positive for the West Nile virus.

Samples of mosquitos were taken from areas in different quadrants — north, south, east and west — of the city to determine which areas contained the mosquitos infected with the virus.

The Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory conducted tests on the mosquito samples and determined that samples from northwest — near Taconey neighborhoods — and southwest — near The Glades neighborhood — areas of Vidalia tested posted for the virus.

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Executive Associate Director Dr. Alma Roy said the laboratory uses a technique to test the ribonucleic acid in mosquitos for three different viruses — West Nile, eastern equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis.

“It’s a high-throughput screening, so we can do a thousand samples in a matter of hours,” Roy said. “The West Nile is pretty much everywhere right now, and we’re testing about a thousand of these pools a week from 33 different parishes or cities.”

Vidalia Street Department Director Lee Staggs said the results came back to his office Tuesday and city employees are working to inform residents in the affected areas.

“We’ll be sending out notifications and alerts through our CodeRED emergency notification system to the neighborhoods that are affected by the mosquitos,” Staggs said. “Residents in those areas need to put on some kind of repellent that has DEET in it if they go outside and try to stay inside during sunset and dark.”

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported last week 24 new cases of West Nile virus.

So far this year, six people have died in Louisiana from the virus, and DHH has detected 92 cases.

More than half — 47 — of this year’s cases are West Nile neuro-invasive disease, the more serious form of the virus that infects the brain and spinal cord and can cause brain damage or death. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals states that 90 percent of cases of West Nile Virus are asymptomatic.

Three cases of the West Nile virus have been reported in Concordia Parish — two were neuro-invasive, and the other was asymptomatic.

In its worst cases, West Nile Virus can result in encephalitis or meningitis. In milder cases, it results in nausea, fever, headache, vomiting, muscle weakness and swollen lymph nodes.

Roy said residents of areas with reported cases of West Nile shouldn’t be frightened, but instead take more intensive precautionary methods.

“It’s not an alarm thing, it’s all about prevention and keeping the vector (mosquito) from biting you,” Roy said. “The main goal is to stop that mosquito from biting you.”

Apart from sending out emergency alerts to residents in the affected areas, Staggs said his department will continue its regular spraying treatment and sending more samples in for testing.

“We’ll be doing the same thing and just trying to keep control over these areas,” Staggs said. “The areas we had on the other ends of town, we hit those hard with spraying and treatments and we reduced those cases down.”

The city sprays for mosquitos on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for approximately three hours each day, usually at dusk but also sometimes in the morning, Staggs said.

The city has also been operating a mosquito abatement program since May, putting larvacide in known mosquito breeding areas and also in residents’ pools or backyards.

The tablet kills the mosquitos in the larva or pupil stages.

The chemical and frequency of the sprays is regulated through the LSU Ag Center and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Across the river, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported earlier this month that Adams County had one confirmed case of West Nile.

As of Tuesday, the total reported cases in Mississippi is 80, including one death in Smith County.

Natchez public works normally sprays twice a week every summer to help curb the mosquito population in the area, but the city has increased to spray four or five times a week in those areas.

The city also puts larvacide in areas with stagnant water to help kill the mosquito larva.

The Adams County Road Department doesn’t have a spray truck or a spray program, but tablets of larvacide are available for residents to use at their houses.

The tablets can be picked up at the department’s office at 307 Market St.