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West Nile rears its head in Knox County

Knox County Health Department officials have received confirmation from the Tennessee Department of Health that West Nile Virus was found in one crow tested from west Knox County.

This is the first evidence of WNV among birds in Knox County and the State of Tennessee this year.

In 2003, Knox County’s first reported positive bird was on August 4.

“It is very unusual for Knox County to have a positive bird specimen this early in the mosquito season, but this confirms that the West Nile Virus is present in Knox County,” said Mark Jones, Director of the Knox County Health Department. There has been one horse reported positive for WNV in Fayetteville; however, no human cases of WNV have been reported in Tennessee in 2004.

As a result of the positive test, Knox County Health Department officials will place collection traps for adult mosquitoes in different areas of Knox County to continue monitoring for WNV. In addition, Knox County will continue accepting freshly dead crows and blue jays for WNV testing. Mosquito spraying will continue with emphasis on the area where the positive bird was found.

West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can occasionally cause an infection of the brain in humans. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds and can transmit WNV to humans and horses through mosquito bites. Most human infections are mild, and symptoms include fever, headache, and body aches that last only a few days. In only a few instances, the virus can cause meningitis or encephalitis in which case a high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, or convulsions may be present. The virus cannot spread from person to person.

Dead bird surveillance is used to look for disease, since blue jays and crows have a high sensitivity to the virus and can provide an early warning of any significant increase of WNV in an area. “If you see a freshly dead crow of blue jay, contact the Knox County Health Department to see if the bird should be tested for WNV. Birds that are decomposed cannot be tested. If the bird does need to be tested, put a clear plastic bag over your hand, pick it up, and then pull the bag over the bird and secure it. Store the bird on ice or in a cool place until the bird can be delivered to the Health Department,” Jones said.

The Health Department says community members can lower their risk of mosquito-borne disease by taking the following precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites:

• If possible, limit outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, since this is the time of greatest mosquito activity.

• If you are outside when mosquitoes are prevalent, wear protective clothing such as long pants, long-sleeved shirts and socks.

• Use a mosquito repellent that contains DEET (the chemical N-N-diethyl-metatoluamide) and follow the directions on the label.

• Eliminate mosquito-breeding sites around your home by emptying areas such as birdbaths, children’s pools, clogged gutters and any other items that can collect stagnant water.

• Keep windows and doors closed or cover them with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering the house.

For more information about mosquito control and WNV, visit Knox County’s Web site at


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