MOULTRIE -- A 13-year-old Colquitt County girl was hospitalized last week for what could be encephalitis.

Christa Bivins, who lives near Sale City, was released Monday after being tested for West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne viruses, such as the more deadly Eastern equine encephalitis, said Moultrie pediatrician Dr. Patricia June.

"We're just waiting," her mother, Kay Bivins, said.

Usually a very healthy child, Christa loves the outdoors, Bivins said. She noticed the child had several mosquito bites before the onset of flu-like symptoms, she said.

After four days of exhibiting a low-grade fever, headaches, dizziness, excessive sleepiness and blurred vision, Christa began vomiting Friday morning and throughout the day. She had become incoherent, Bivins said.

"It was really scary. ... She was always sleeping," Bivins said, who said West Nile virus came to mind as Christa's headaches increased and her vision had diminished significantly.

Her parents took her to the hospital Friday where she spent the night in intensive care for observation purposes, Dr. June said.

Drd. June put Christa on aggressive antibiotics in case she had contracted bacterial meningitis, but she said she later ruled out that possibility.

Tests results to confirm what illness Christa had could take up to two or three weeks, Dr. June said.

"I know we're all worried that it could be West Nile or equine encephalitis. It's certainly a possibility," Dr. June said. "Statistically speaking, I suppose the ... viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea in most people causing meningitis may be a little bit more likely, but the symptoms she had as far as the blindness goes sways me more toward encephalitis. My best guess is that we'll find something, but I don't want to cause a big scare around here until we know we have something."

Dr. June said that time and rest is the only treatment for encephalitis.

"You just wait to let it clear up on its own, because there is no specific treatment to make one get well faster," she said.

Colquitt County health officials said that none of the bird carcasses sent for testing have come back positive for West Nile virus. Two or three birds are still at the laboratory, they said.

Officials are awaiting results on tests of about a dozen patients with symptoms of encephalitis, according to the Georgia Division of Health. In neighboring counties, no suspected human cases have been reported to county health departments. Environmental health officials in Mitchell and Worth counties said that though almost a dozen dead birds have been sent off for testing, no confirmed cases of West Nile have come back. Officials in both counties are still awaiting results on several birds, they said.

In other surrounding counties, West Nile virus was confirmed in two American crows and one blue jay in Berrien County, two American crows and one blue jay in Brooks County, three American crows and one common grackle in Clinch County, one American robin in Dougherty County, two American crows in Echols County, eight American crows in Lowndes County and one horse and one American crow in Thomas County, according to the Associated Press.

Georgia totals for confirmed West Nile cases are 46 birds, one horse and one human, AP reports said.

David Bang, public information officer for the Southwest Georgia Health District 8, Unit 2, maintains that the case of 71-year-old Atlanta woman who died on Aug. 17 after 12 days of treatment remains unconfirmed. Though she initially was diagnosed with West Nile virus by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Bang said, any confirmation is still a week to 10 days away.

Nationwide, four other people have been confirmed as positive for West Nile virus, according to AP. Three of the remaining four cases are from Florida, including a former Colquitt County man who now lives in Madison County, Fla., another woman from Madison County and a Jefferson County man, according to the Florida Department of Health.

On Tuesday, a 21-year-old man from Crestville, Fla., in the Florida Panhandle d

ied of Eastern equine encephalitis, AP said. A 9-year-old boy also lost his life to the mosquito-borne virus July 25. He was from the same area.

Other human cases of encephalitis, a brain inflammation, were under investigation throughout Florida, state epidemiologists said.

District health authorities are asking that only freshly dead crows, blue jays or birds of prey (such as owls and hawks) be brought in for analysis, since these species are most likely to yield important information about the pattern of West Nile virus transmission in Georgia.

Prevention is the best course of action against infection, Bang said. The diseases are transmitted only by mosquitoes, so using insect repellent and staying indoors from dusk to dawn are effective defenses.

-- By Lori Glenn

* For the full story, see Thursday's Moultrie Observer.

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