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Sentinel chickens test positive for SLEV
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Most insect repellents can be used on children. However, never apply repellent to children younger than 2 months old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Apply sparingly around ears, never on eyes or mouth.
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Photo by JAMES GATHANY, COURTESY CDC
A blood-engorged female Aedes albopictus mosquito feeds on a human host.
SEMINOLE - Pinellas County Mosquito Control announced Thursday, July 31, that two sentinel chickens had tested positive for St. Louis encephalitis. Officials urge residents to use mosquito repellant and rid their property of standing water.

Sentinel chickens are used as an early-warning detection system for some mosquito-borne arboviral diseases. The chickens are tested to determine if mosquitoes carrying diseases are present in the area.

Sentinel chickens are kept in eight locations in the county and tested weekly. One of the chickens that tested positive for SLEV was at Walsingham Park in Seminole. The second was in Cross Bayou in unincorporated Seminole.

Mosquito Control technicians are treating known breeding areas by ground and by air, as well as responding to requests from residents, according to a press release. Additional fogging is ongoing in these areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SLEV is a rare disease spread to humans via a bite by an infected mosquito. SLEV is not spread from person to person. Health officials say that some people infected with the virus may not have symptoms at all. Others, especially those over the age of 50, can become seriously ill.

SLEV affects the central nervous system and can cause an inflammation of the brain. Symptoms range from fever with headache to meningitis, encephalitis and coma. Symptoms usually occur five to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

The last time SLEV was reported in Pinellas was 2011, when the county was under mosquito-borne illness advisory through much of August and September after 15 chickens tested positive for SLEV and three for West Nile virus. No human cases were reported.

According to the state department of health, no human SLEV cases have been reported in Florida since 2003; however, since those infected often have no symptoms, the majority of cases go undetected.

Chikungunya fever

A different mosquito-borne illness, chikungunya fever, has been in the news lately. Health officials want residents to know that SLEV is different from chikungunya, which sentinel chickens do not detect.

Chikungunya can only be confirmed by a blood test on a patient suspected of having chikungunya, said Maggie Hall, public information director for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

There have been three confirmed cases of chikungunya in Pinellas County this year. All three were in individuals who had traveled to the Caribbean and contracted the illness while traveling.

No locally acquired cases of chikungunya were reported in Florida until July 17 when the state DOH confirmed two - one in Miami Dade County and one in Palm Beach County.

According to the CDC, the cases in Florida are the first from infected mosquitoes in the continental United States. CDC officials do not believe there is reason to expect widespread cases of chikungunya in this summer; however, they caution that American travelers infected overseas may continue bring the virus back to the U.S.

Symptoms of chikungunya include sudden onset of fever greater than 102 degrees, severe joint pain mainly in the arms and legs, headache, muscle pain, back pain and rash. Symptoms usually appear about three to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Most patients feel better after a few days or weeks, according to the DOH; however, some people may develop long-term effects. Complications are more common in infants younger than a year old; those older than 65; and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Hall said the public needs to understand that not all mosquitos carry the same type of virus. For example, chikungunya is spread by two mosquito species - Aedes aegypti (primarily) and Aedes albopictus, both found in Florida. Infected mosquitoes spread the virus to people through their bite.

Mosquitos that carry chikungunya are daytime biters, Hall said.

For years, health officials have said residents should be leery of mosquitos at dusk and dawn. While it is still true that most mosquitos are more active at dusk and dawn, residents now have more reason to protect themselves from bites during the daytime.

DOH advises residents to practice the Three Ds: Drain standing water around the home; dress in light colors and wear loose fitting clothing that covers the arms and legs; and defend by using mosquito repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Hall said caregivers might want to consider mosquito netting for children too young for products with DEET. The CDC recommends that DEET not be used on children age 2 months or younger.

Ways to help

Mosquitoes can breed in as little as one-quarter inch of standing water. Staff with the county’s Mosquito Control urges residents to be diligent in ridding their properties of standing water to prevent mosquitoes breeding.

• Empty water from old tires, flowerpots, garbage can lids, recycling containers, boat tarps and buckets. Eliminate standing water near plumbing drains, air conditioner drips, septic tanks or rain gutters.

• Flush birdbaths and wading pools weekly. Flush bromeliads twice weekly or treat with a biological larvicide.

• Change the water in outdoor pet dishes daily.

• Keep pools adequately chlorinated.

• Stock ornamental ponds with mosquito-eating gambusia fish.

• Cover rain barrels with fine mesh screening.

• Repair rips or tears in door and window screens.

For more information, visit www.pinellascounty.org/mosquito or call 464-7503.

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