West Nile Virus in Sarasota chickens sound warning bell on mosquito-borne illness

Sarasota County residents are being asked to take precautions against mosquitoes after three chickens near North Port tested positive for West Nile Virus. 

Michael Drennon, disease intervention services program manager with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, says West Nile is always present in Florida, but the chickens give us a heads-up.

"It's kind of a sentinel program that allows us to warn the community ahead of time," Drennon explained.

At this time, no human cases have been reported.

READ: Simple ways to evict mosquitoes from your property

"The things that the chickens let us do is kind of give us an idea of when we start seeing an increase in that virus amongst mosquito populations," he said.

Mosquitoes on a screen

Drennon said 80% of people infected with West Nile Virus will have no symptoms. But there are signs you need to watch out for if you've been recently bitten.

"A small percentage of people do have health problems and can be fever, headache, being lethargic and those go away and people recover fine. And an even smaller group may have neurological symptoms and those are the people we want to have seek medical attention quickly because there are treatments available, but they do need to know that they’ve been exposed to mosquitos," he said.

READ: Mosquito management in Hillsborough County uses helicopters and bacteria

The chickens are like an early warning system and a reminder that mosquito bites can cause more headaches than just an itchy red bump.

"One thing we need to remember is West Nile Virus is in Florida all the time and we always need to be taking those precautions to be able to prevent those bites," said Drennon.

How to keep mosquitoes away

  • Drain standing water to keep the bugs from multiplying
  • Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flowerpots, or any other containers where sprinkler or rainwater has collected.
  • Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
  • Empty and clean birdbaths and pet's water bowls at least once or twice a week.
  • Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don't accumulate water.
  • Maintain swimming pools in good condition and appropriately chlorinated.
  • Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

How to protect skin from mosquitoes

  • Clothing - Wear shoes, socks, and long pants and long sleeves. This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present.
  • Repellent - Apply mosquito repellent to bare skin and clothing.
  • Always use repellents according to the label. Repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, and IR3535 are effective.
  • Use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months old.

How to use mosquito repellant

  • Always read label directions carefully for the approved usage before you apply a repellent. Some repellents are not suitable for children.
  • Products with concentrations of up to 30 percent DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are generally recommended. Other U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved repellents contain picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or IR3535. These products are generally available at local pharmacies. Look for active ingredients to be listed on the product label.
  • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin, or onto clothing, but not under clothing.
  • In protecting children, read label instructions to be sure the repellent is age appropriate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mosquito repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of three years. DEET is not recommended on children younger than two months old.
  • Avoid applying repellents to the hands of children. Adults should apply repellent first to their own hands and then transfer it to the child's skin and clothing.
  • If additional protection is necessary, apply a permethrin repellent directly to your clothing. Again, always follow the manufacturer's directions.

The Department of Health also recommends covering doors and windows with screens and repairing broken screening on windows, doors, porches and patios to keep mosquitoes out of your house.

LINK: Click here for more information about Sarasota County Mosquito Management Services or call (941) 861-5000.