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West Nile, mosquito season draws to close

The West Nile Virus threat is pretty much over for this year, Mark Jones, director of the Knox County Health Department said.

Despite Knox County’s first confirmed case of the disease two weeks ago in a 57-year-old woman, the mosquito population has subsided enough for the Health Department to cease fogging Knox County neighborhoods as of last week, Jones said.

“This is the end of the season, the mosquito activity is greatly reduced,” Jones said. He added that last week would be the last week “we’re going to be out doing mosquito control … that’s the way we had it planned.”

Jones said that some 20 birds, mostly crows and blue jays, had tested positive for the virus.

“We monitor the virus by doing lab tests on crows and blue jays,” he said, “and it’s in all sectors of Knox County. We quit doing tests on birds in mid-September.”

Jones said that around May of each year the department would begin sending off the birds if there are reports of dying birds and have them analyzed to see if they are dying from the West Nile Virus. Jones added that if the test indicates a West Nile presence, then “we mark that area of the community. And it is in all sectors of Knox County.”

Jones said that so far there have been 18 laboratory-confirmed cases of WNV in Tennessee this year, and one death recorded in Memphis. He said the average age of human cases in Tennessee was 61, with an age range of 16 to 92 years of age. He added that 42 counties in the state have had positive reports of WNV in horses, including three in Knox County, and 61 counties have reported positive results in mosquito pools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have reported more than 7,000 human cases nationwide, with 152 deaths.

Jones said that the occurrence of a human case of West Nile Virus in Knox County was not unexpected.

“It was just a matter of time before the virus appeared in Knox County,” he said. “We have had positive reports of WNV in birds and horses in our county already this year. We also know that the danger of infection with the virus has become greater later in the summer season in previous years, and even into the fall.”

He added that this is still the time when routine precautions will protect Knox County residents from acquiring the infection. These precautions include the use of insect repellent containing DEET, wearing protective clothing when possible and eliminating standing water around homes and yards where mosquitoes might breed.

Jones said that the county has been active with a fogging program for most of the summer. The program ended last week and “we roughly covered most of the county.”

Jones said that the fogging program was similar to what is used in Florida and other high areas of mosquito activity. He said that in Farragut the fogging was done in cooperation with the First Utility District.

“We provided the chemical – BioMist – and the directions on how to use it, and (FUD) provided the labor, a truck and a spraying unit,” he said.

Amy McHenry, a registered nurse who works in the reportable disease division of the KCHD, said most human infections are mild, with flu-like symptoms that last only a few days.

“Even if bitten by an infected mosquito, less than one percent of those who get infected will develop serious illness,” she said.

Jones said that the disease “is probably something that’s going to be here” for a long time, but doesn’t have a prediction of what impact it will have in the future.

“You look at New York, and you don’t have the same issues as when it first came,” he said.

Jones said that the best thing that people can do is follow the KCHD recommendations of eliminating standing water, cover up when possible and use a product containing DEET.

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