VALDOSTA -- Some people who have been bitten by mosquitoes with West Nile virus may never know it.

Dr. Lynne Feldman, with the Southeastern District Health Department, said about 80 percent of infected people will never experience symptoms from the disease and may just become immune to the disease.

People who contract the disease and experience problems are usually the elderly and those who have suppressed immune systems.

The city of Valdosta learned Thursday that a dead bird found in the city's downtown area tested positive for West Nile. Earlier, officials reported West Nile was found in a blue jay discovered along Miller Bridge Road in north Lowndes County.

Recently, four people were infected with West Nile through organs transplanted from a car accident victim in Atlanta. The donor died from her injuries, not from West Nile. Only one of the transplant recipients has died from West Nile.

Feldman said that mosquitoes are still the No. 1 carriers, although the disease also is passed through birds. Feldman also said there is no knowledge of birds, horses or people spreading the disease. She said that humans are not carriers.

"This is a blood-borne disease," she said. "A human cannot pass the disease along like you do when you get (mononucleosis). But when you put an infected organ or blood into a person, and they have a suppressed immune system, they are more likely to have symptoms."

Some birds can carry the disease and get better, such as chickens. Feldman said this may not be an indicator of how to prevent West Nile.

"Birds are not good sentinels," she said. "Some birds just die, and quickly, and others get the disease, get better and just go about their business. Others, like crows and blue jays, are most susceptible."

Feldman said that several chickens in the area were recorded as having the disease last year, but none died.

Horses are another animal known to get the disease. One of the most famous cases is that of Magic Weisner, the 2002 Preakness Stakes second place winner, who is being treated in Pennsylvania. Feldman said the number of infected horses in South Georgia has dropped considerably.

"There is now a vaccine for horses, and most horses in this area have been vaccinated for West Nile," she said. "We haven't had any positives this year, but a number of cases were recorded last year."

However, no vaccine has been made for humans.

"It takes years to develop a vaccine," Feldman said. "To create a vaccine would take a lot of thought because the vaccine could do more harm than good."

The Red Cross and other blood providers are meeting to discuss testing their blood stores. No method has been issued, said Feldman.

Feldman said people should not panic, as there are no recorded West Nile victims infected in this region. A dead blue jay was found in Hahira and tested positive for West Nile, but no mosquitoes have been found in this area carrying the disease.

"There has not been as much mosquito activity as there has been in past years," she said.

Seven people have been infected in Georgia, and most are in northern Georgia, in counties such as Fulton and Muskogee. Ten probable cases have been recorded. Probable means the person's doctor suspects West Nile, but the case has not been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

"There are no probables (for West Nile) in this region either," Feldman said. "The closest in this area are in Colquitt and Dougherty counties. Remember, probable does not mean confirmed. Confirmed is what is important."



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