West Nile Virus Confirmed in Florida Dead Crow Had Lethal Disease, Officials Say

Article excerpt

Byline: Marcia Mattson, Times-Union staff writer

A dead crow found in Jefferson County in mid-June was infected with the deadly West Nile virus, the Florida Department of Health confirmed yesterday.

It's the first time the viral disease, which sickened 82 people and killed nine in metropolitan New York City in 1999 and 2000, has been detected in Florida, said Steven Wiersma, deputy chief epidemiologist for the state Department of Health.

But Wiersma said people don't need to panic.

"The virus is here. We don't think it poses a major threat," he said, noting that North Carolina has not had a reported case in humans since an infected dead crow was found there six months ago.

Less than 1 percent of mosquitoes carry West Nile virus in areas where the virus is known to be present, and less than 1 percent of people infected with the virus will develop a severe illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus had never been reported in the Western Hemisphere prior to August 1999. Since being discovered in New York, it has been spreading south.

The dead crow in Florida was detected because a resident found the bird near Monticello and reported it to a testing program Florida officials put in place after the New York cases were found. A series of tests confirmed the infection yesterday.

The virus can kill birds and cause a potentially deadly inflammation in the brain of humans and horses.

Florida doctors are being advised to look for patients with symptoms of the virus arboviral encephalitis, which is caused by the West Nile virus.

Symptoms may include headache, fever, fatigue, dizziness, weakness and confusion. Doctors should submit serum and/or cerebrospinal fluid samples to the state Department of Health's branch laboratories in Jacksonville or Tampa for testing.

People cannot spread the virus to each other. Mosquitoes spread the virus by ingesting the blood of infected birds, which circulate the virus in their system, according to the health department. …