From staff and wire reports

Florida officials got approval Tuesday to begin aerial spraying for mosquitoes in Madison County where a man became the first in the state to test positive for the potentially fatal West Nile virus.

County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to give the state Agriculture Department the go-ahead to begin spraying the pesticide Dibrom.

State officials won't spray the entire county because of the cost but will focus on the most populated areas and places where the virus is known to have killed birds.

S.T. Carruthers, 73, from Sirmans remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday after being infected last week.

On Tuesday, Lowndes County commissioners considered the costs of aerial spraying, but County Public Works Director Marvin Lee said it would cost $600 an hour.

The commissioners are continuing to examine the costs of operating their own spraying truck, but for now will continue to have the city of Valdosta spray in unincorporated parts of the county.

"We worked it out to approximately $70 per hour (for the city to do it)," Lee said.

"If we were to buy equipment and chemicals, it would cost us about $117 per hour," he said.

Operating its own program would cost the county $3,000 a week, based on a cost of $32 per gallon for chemicals and spraying for six hours per night using at least 3.3-gallons per hour, Lee said.

Commission Chairman Rod Casey said many things must be considered before making such a move.

"We want the citizens to know that the county will do whatever it takes to control the West Nile Virus," Casey said. "But we have to consider how pesticides will effect other things in the environment."

He said although spraying kills mosquitoes, it poses a threat to wildlife, other insects and people. He added that he has seen evidence of other communities using aerial spraying and it having tremendous adverse effects.

In Madison County, an area of rolling hills dotted by horse farms, community members urged officials to spray as much of the county as possible, not just the most populated areas.

Many rural residents are concerned about their horses, an important industry in the area.

"I don't really care that it's more expensive, I just care about myself, my family, my neighbors and my livestock," said Jim Haddon, a horse farmer in Cherry Lake, north of Madison. "Obviously, the prime motivation is people, I understand that. But I'm very concerned about my horses."

Madison is expected to receive $3,000 to $5,000 in funding for the aerial spraying program, according to Paula Arnold, administrative director for the board of commissioners.

Eannix Poole, Madison County health director, said, "The county commissioners requested any assistance for aerial spraying. They are concerned about the health of the community."

Neighboring counties such as Jefferson and Leon received disaster relief funds for aerial spraying for mosquitoes in the wake of flooding from tropical storm Allison, but Madison did not.

"We want to try and maintain some calm," said Wayne Erato, an environmental specialist with the county health department. "If they (humans) are showing prolonged headaches and high fever -- they need to consult their physicians. The testing has to be prescribed by a doctor. We (health department) can't arbitrarily test for the virus."

Health officials said Carruthers tested positive for the virus but they are still awaiting confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control. For now, it is being called the first presumptive human case in Florida.

West Nile virus has only been known to exist in the United States since 1999 and was first detected in Florida in early July. Scientists still don't know what species of mosquito is carrying the virus, which killed nine people in New York and New Jersey two years ago.

"At this point, it's just a shotgun approach" to fight the mosquitoes, said Wayne Gale, a mosquito control specialist with the Florida Department of Agriculture. "We don't know which mosquito to target."

Also, a CDC spokeswoman said

Tuesday that the West Nile virus is "here to stay in the United States."

"We can't predict how the virus will spread," said Barbara Reynolds. "There's more that we don't know about how this virus will act in the United States than what we do know.

"Our emphasis is controlling outbreaks of illness in humans."

There have been two birds tested positive in Madison County.

"There are about 40 birds reported so far," Erato said. "About 20 of the birds have been sent out. Conditions of the birds determine if the sample will be sent."

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