Health Officer: 12 Alabamians Diagnosed With West Nile Virus

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) - To date, 12 people in Alabama have been diagnosed with West Nile virus. Health officials discussed the disease's impact on our state Friday morning.

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Most of the cases, six of them, have been in Montgomery County.  Sadly, one person died there of West Nile virus, according to State Health Officer Don Williamson.

Williamson said only a small percentage of cases are reported and then confirmed, because most people don't get sick if they come in contact with West Nile.  If people do get sick, they often experience flu-like symptoms, and their doctors treat them for those symptoms.

There's not a specific treatment for West Nile.

Dr. Williamson said mosquitoes that do carry West Nile virus tend to feed at dawn and dusk.  He urged people to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and long pants if you are out during those hours.

"It's important to do what we can do as citizens to reduce our exposure," said Dr. Williamson.  "Look at your gutters, standing water, if you're having your lawn mowed, or doing it yourself, make sure the grass clippings don't get thrown in a ditch, or clog a drain.  That creates standing water."

You're also urged to use an insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin or Oil of Eucalyptus.  However, be careful using these products on young children.

Williamson said certain people are at greater risk of being affected by West Nile -- people over age 50, and people with certain medical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension and organ transplants.

"Only 20 percent of people exposed to West Nile actually develop symptoms," said Williamson. 

Even then, he said most people do not have severe complications.

Pets can also get West Nile, so keeping them inside during the dawn and dusk hours would also help reduce their risk of exposure.

The Centers for Disease Control has said the current West Nile outbreak is the largest the U.S. has ever seen.  As of this week, more than 1,100 people have been diagnosed with West Nile virus, and 42 deaths have been linked to it.

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