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County reports 1st case of illness

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett is one of the first two counties in Georgia to report a case of West Nile virus, state officials announced Wednesday.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Public Health has confirmed a 57-year-old resident in the county has contracted the mosquito-borne disease.

A Public Health spokeswoman said she could not release the name or the particular place in the county where the virus was reported due to patient confidentiality laws.

Messages left with the Gwinnett County Health Department for comment were not returned as of press time Wednesday.

Georgia epidemiologist Dr. Susan Lance said the new cases, such as the one reported from Gwinnett, have come about in a time similar to years past.

"It's not particularly early," Lance said of the first two cases. "We usually see our first cases in July, with the bulk in August and September."

Spread to humans and animals by mosquitoes, the virus often results in flu-like symptoms such as high fever, headache, neck stiffness and muscle weakness, and, although rare, can lead to serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, including inflammation of the brain and the spinal cord.

According to the Division of Public Health, the virus is often more serious for people 50 and older.

Lance said while it's the Division of Public Health's job to inform the state about news cases, she said it's up to individual counties, cities and residents to take precautionary measures. While there is no vaccine for the virus, Lance said it can be prevented.

"It's important to take precautions. Mosquitoes are active at dusk and dawn, so it's best to avoid being outside during those times if possible and if you need to be outside wear long sleeves and pants," Lance said. "I know it's hard to do that during the summer in Georgia, so we recommend you wear repellent."

Lance said it's also important to dump out standing water, which is a breading ground for mosquitoes.

According to the Division of Public Health, the most common mosquito-borne viruses that circulate in Georgia include Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile and La Crosses viruses, which are most common in late spring through early fall, with human cases most commonly encountered in August.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site, about one in 150 people infected with the virus will become severely ill, although people who do get sick often recover without treatment.

Most people bitten by infected mosquitoes do not get sick, according to information released to the Post by Georgia Division of Public Health.

According to the state's DHR, nine cases of West Nile were confirmed in 2006 in the state, including one death. Lance said there's no way to predict how many cases could be seen in the state this year.

"It's been really highly variable," Lance said. "I think the most we've seen in the state is 40 and last year I believe we had nine cases."