Mosquito-borne illness detected in Pinellas County - WFLA News Channel 8

Mosquito-borne illness detected in Pinellas County

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One of the sentinel chickens that was tested in Pinellas County. One of the sentinel chickens that was tested in Pinellas County.
HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Inside a specialized chicken coop, a large group of chickens tell us a lot about mosquito threats in our area.  

They're sentinel chickens, and they're placed in cages throughout the county. Their sole job is to get bit by mosquitoes.

And on Tuesday, a chicken in Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

"It can be a deadly disease," said Maggie Hall with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

Hall says EEE is spread by mosquitoes, and symptoms can appear at least four days after a mosquito bite.

She said, "Symptoms early on its going to be things like headaches and you'll be kind of stiff and have chills and a fever."

It could also lead to brain inflammation, which could cause a coma or even death.

"People should always be concerned because with EEE, it's more common in the Gulf States and the Atlantic Coast states," said Hall.

EEE is very rare. Officials say there are only around ten human cases in the U.S. each year. The last time anyone caught the disease in Pinellas County was three years ago.

But Pinellas county mosquito control is on the case.

Glen-Paul Edson is the Assistant District Operations Manager with the Pinellas County Mosquito Control. Edson said, "Even though it is the winter, it is Florida, we do have mosquitoes year round, and we have to take them serious."

So crews are spraying the area and killing larvae.

But the best defense is to get the word out so locals can be proactive.

Wearing long sleeves, putting on repellant, and dumping standing water goes a long way in avoiding this dangerous disease.

"It's gotta come down to each person to take a little initiative themselves and reduce that risk," said Edson.

But EEE could also impact pets as well. 

Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners says dogs or cats can be exposed to EEE. However, it is rare for them to develop symptoms.

According to Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, neurologic symptoms are not specific to one disease process and can include weakness of all or one limb, seizures, depression, discomfort and disorientation.

The Veterinary group says horse owners should make sure their horses are vaccinated for EEE.

Here are some tips from Blue Pearl Veterinary partners:

-          Limit the time your pets are outside to time when mosquitoes are least likely to be active. Mosquitoes are usually most active during dusk and dawn.

-          DO NOT USE insect repellants for humans, on pets! Talk with your veterinarian about safe mosquito and insect repellents for pets.

-          Install and repair screens: Have secure, intact screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out.

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