West Nile Virus present in Indian River County sentinel chickens

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Corey Arwood

| Treasure Coast Newspapers
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Health officials warn Treasure Coast residents to avoid mosquito bites after flocks of sentinel chickens in Indian River County tested positive for West Nile virus.

Infection in chickens used to monitor viruses suggests an increased risk for people of developing the mosquito-borne disease, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The October 30 announcement meant that all three Treasure Coast Counties had found the virus in their own Sentinel Chicken programs. No human cases have been reported in Indian River, St. Lucie, or Martin counties.

At least 36 confirmed human cases were reported in August that year in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

More: West Nile Virus found in humans in South Florida, not Treasure Coast; COVID-19 interrupts the test

The Indian River Mosquito Control District views the virus as “of particular concern” to the county as it occurs year-round among mosquitoes in wetlands and farmland, which usually bite at night.

According to the CDC, the virus can cause fever, headache and body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and rash in one in five people infected.

While the majority of those who become infected with the virus show no symptoms, a small percentage of those infected develop rare central nervous system disorders, such as encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to complications from swelling of the brain and spine.

There are no vaccines or treatments for the West Nile virus, although over-the-counter drugs are used to relieve its symptoms, according to the CDC.

The St. Lucie County, Florida Department of Health reported that four of the county’s 30 sentinel chickens were found positive in October, with a recent rain shower adding to a population boom.

Since August, when the county first detected West Nile infections in its sentinel chickens, Martin County has had mosquito advice.

More: West Nile Virus Found in Martin County Chickens; DOH urges precautionary measures

Doug Carlson, director of the Indian River Mosquito Control District, said the birds are housed in eight flocks of six chickens per flock across the county and are typically tested weekly during the peak mosquito months, roughly March through November.

Chickens are largely unaffected by the virus, but once they are bitten by an infected mosquito, they produce antibodies that alert scientists and local officials to the presence of virus in mosquitoes in the area.

Carlson said that individual preventive measures like wearing insect repellant and long clothes are the most effective measures for preventing mosquito-borne diseases.

The Florida Department of Health urges people to drain stagnant water sources in their yards where mosquitoes breed.

More: In St. Lucie County, mosquito-borne diseases are on the rise and chickens are positive for West Nile Virus

Corey Arwood is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. Follow Corey on Twitter @coreyarwood or call him at 772-978-2246.

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