July 25, 2008

Mosquito-Borne Encephalitis Detected Near Area

By Cynthia Pegram, The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.

Jul. 25--A case of La Crosse encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease, was confirmed in the Central Shenandoah Health District, which is adjacent to parts of Amherst and Bedford counties.

The disease, a potentially dangerous inflammation of the brain, is rare. But health authorities say area residents should take general precautions against mosquito bites, especially protecting children.

The patient, who recovered, was a child, but no other information is being released about that case, said Jonathan Falk, senior epidemiologist with Central Shenandoah Health District, which issued a news release about the case Thursday.

It represents the most northern occurrence of the infection confirmed in Virginia, although cases do appear in Southwest Virginia.

Mosquitoes carry the virus after biting an infected rodent, Falk said. Humans cannot transmit it.

The Central Shenandoah Health District includes the localities of Augusta, Bath, Buena Vista, Harrisonburg, Highland, Lexington, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Staunton and Waynesboro.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, La Crosse Encephalitis can be mild to severe. About 70 cases are reported nationwide each year, although the CDC considers it to be under reported. In severe cases, seizures and neurological damage can occur. However, the death rate is low.

Dr. Kerry Gateley, new director of the Lynchburg-based Central Virginia Health District, said area residents "need to be aware that this is out there. The risk is not great, but there is a risk in being exposed to the virus."

Gateley, who's in his first week on the job in Lynchburg, came to the district from a post in West Virginia, a state in which the La Crosse virus is established.


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