Originally created 11/16/02

Tests confirm 4 West Nile cases



Four more animals felled by West Nile virus in Columbia County should warn residents that they still need to take precautions against the mosquito-borne virus. State testing will continue in Georgia throughout the winter as officials study the virus.

Test samples from three birds and a horse sent off in late October came back positive for West Nile, Columbia County nurse manager Phyllis Roland said. The horse is the second one infected in the county, said Mark Woody, the environmental health county manager. Richmond County also has had a horse infected, according to the state Division of Public Health, but neither county has had a human case this year.

West Nile infections are rarely serious in people but can cause an infection in the brain called encephalitis that can sometimes be fatal, particularly for the elderly and the very young. Since it first appeared in New York City in 1999, the virus has spread to the West coast but has always disappeared during the winter months. The virus apparently has difficulty reproducing itself when the temperature is below 55 degrees, health officials said last year. South Carolina announced this week it will suspend bird testing for the year after Friday because of the reduced risk. But Georgia will continue accepting birds for testing, Mr. Woody said.

"We're still accepting them because they want to do further studies," Mr. Woody said.

And that also means continuing to eliminate standing water that can become a mosquito breeding ground, Ms. Roland said.

"We would like the public to remain diligent - especially in light of the rain that we've had," Ms. Roland said.

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

Only freshly dead crows, blue jays and raptors such as hawks should be submitted for West Nile testing. Birds will not be accepted this weekend in Columbia County. The dead birds cannot transmit the virus to people.