MOULTRIE -- Counting crows takes on a new meaning as evidence of the West Nile virus has been discovered in Georgia and North Florida this summer.

Several infected dead crows were found in Lowndes County, Ga., and Jefferson County, Fla., recently, and state health officials are still asking that anyone finding a dead bird call the local health department. Those birds not collected should be double-bagged and placed in the regular trash or buried at least three feet deep, they said.

Officials have been expecting the appearance of the virus in the state this summer, and though it is a cause for concern, the risks of getting bitten by an infected mosquito are slight. The risks of becoming very sick from such a bite are slim as well, disease control officials said.

Still, citizens may want to take efforts to limit their exposure to the insects. Senior citizens are most at risk of developing encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Symptoms of encephalitis may include high fever, severe headache, nausea, stiff neck, confusion, muscle weakness, coma and, rarely, death.

The City of Moultrie has stepped up its insecticide applications, said Wally Colwell, beautification supervisor, but it's actually due to hot temperatures and more rainy days. City staffers are keeping tabs on the virus, but application rates recommended by the city's supplier, Clark Chemical Co., evidently suffice in mosquito control, Colwell said.

The city is receiving more calls from citizens concerned about the virus to ensure sprayer trucks are covering their neighborhoods, he said. Currently, the sprayer truck is being operated by a city employee working after hours spraying in the evenings, he said.

"It is causing some people some concern, but I think we're really too early in the situation to panic or anything. It's not like New York," Colwell said.

Local consumer reactions have been slightly noticeable for some merchants. Foodmax Co-Manager Al Yelverton said that sales of insect repellent have been about normal at his store.

CVS drug store department supervisor Patricia Shumon said that her store is selling more insect repellent than normal, restocking the shelves every week. Shumon said that when the first article about the West Nile virus came out in The Moultrie Observer in late May, some customers came into the store discussing the potential threat, but lately she has not heard any more talk.

The virus' first United States appearance was in the Northeast in 1999. While the introduction of a new disease in Georgia is cause for concern, the state has been dealing with mosquito-borne diseases for years, agriculture officials said in a recent release. Two of the most common -- Eastern equine encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis -- pose a greater livestock and human health risk than West Nile virus.

Although wild birds have been killed by the virus, it is unlikely that the disease would seriously impact the state's $2.42 billion poultry industry, officials said. Horse owners, however, should take similar precautions for their animals that they do for themselves to reduce mosquito exposure, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin said.

State officials recommend eliminating mosquito breeding sites by getting rid of standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs; removing old tires, cans, bottles or any containers that hold water as well as inspecting gutters to make sure they are not clogged; and checking watering troughs, plant pots, drip trays, wading pools, pet dishes and other containers at least once a week.

-- By Lori Glenn



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