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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

County urges protection as West Nile patients recover

The three people in Alachua County infected with the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus made full recoveries.

The Alachua County Health Department announced Tuesday that three people were being treated for the virus. This was the first time the county documented anyone with the disease since 2003.

The department wouldn’t release where the infected individuals live or may have been infected due to patient privacy laws.

Paul Myers, a health department administrator, said the disease was detected after three people tried to donate blood early this month. While checking the blood for impurities, a blood bank found antibodies in the individuals’ blood samples that signaled the presence of West Nile Virus.

While the blood test to confirm the diagnosis won’t be finished until next week, Myers said the three individuals complained about West Nile symptoms after finding out they may have the disease.

Myers said he and his colleagues aren’t surprised by the new West Nile infections.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if more cases began to pop up,” he said.

After Tropical Storm Debby, he said, there was a noticeable spike in mosquito populations, particularly the type that spread West Nile Virus.

In the weeks and months after the storm, a few cases of the virus were found in county chickens and a horse.

Most of the virus’ symptoms are similar to those associated with the flu — headache, fever, stiff muscles and an occasional rash. But Myers said 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms, while about one in 150 shows signs of a more aggressive form of the disease that can attack the neurological system.

The best ways to prevent infection with the virus are to wear clothing that covers most of your body and insect repellent.

“Don’t go out at dusk or dawn,” Myers said. “That’s when they’re looking for blood.”

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Some UF students said they were stunned the disease was found in the county.

Danielle Cotillo, 20-year-old public relations sophomore, said her friends spoke about being warned of the disease while studying abroad.

She said she didn’t think she would have to worry about it in the U.S.

“There aren’t really that many mosquitos in Gainesville,” the St. Petersburg native said. “I never really thought about it.”

Contact Shelby Webb at swebb@alligator.org.

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