Originally created 08/31/02

Bird confirms West Nile in Richmond County



Richmond County's first confirmed case of a bird with West Nile virus was a surprise to officials. Then again, it wasn't so surprising.

A dead crow discovered Aug. 22 in the Kingston neighborhood was found to have the virus, which has reached epidemic levels among people in other states and has killed 28 people this year. At least six people have tested positive in Georgia, and two have died.

Last year, a south Augusta man spent a month in a coma from encephalitis caused by the mosquito-borne virus, but he survived. More than 4,400 dead birds - most of them crows - have tested positive for the virus this year in more than 40 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I was surprised that the first one we sent in was positive," said Cheryl Turner, an environmental health specialist for the Richmond County Health Department. Because of the cases last year, "we know that West Nile's here," she said. Richmond County had not pushed bird testing earlier this year because the state wasn't paying for it, and it was assumed the virus had never left the area.

An expert in mosquito trapping and testing from Macon State University will be brought in next week to capture and test mosquitoes from the neighborhood to see if they are carrying the virus, Ms. Turner said.

Officials are asking people who find freshly dead birds to contact their county health departments, but only those in the best condition, particularly blue jays, crows and birds of prey, will likely be sent off for testing, Ms. Turner said. Richmond County Health Department is seeking to boost funding for its mosquito control efforts from $116,000 this year to $350,000 for next year. That would allow for full-time, year-round efforts to fight mosquitoes and treat breeding grounds such as standing water and retention ponds, Ms. Turner said.

"That would help us tremendously," she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.