TREASURE COAST -- - Public health and mosquito control officials are reminding residents this is the time of year to protect against mosquito bites, after test results from state laboratories confirmed Wednesday that West Nile virus is active on the Treasure Coast.
Blood samples from flocks of so-called sentinel chickens posted outdoors produced 10 confirmed positives Wednesday — eight in Indian River County and one each in Martin and St. Lucie counties.
"That is certainly an upturn from what we would experience in a normal year," said Don Shroyer, medical entomologist with the Indian River Mosquito Control District. "No one should be afraid of getting one or two mosquito bites. Nobody is going to get infected under those circumstances. But you want to avoid multiple mosquito bites."
He noted there have been no human cases of West Nile on the Treasure Coast since the virus was first detected in Florida in 2001. However, Jacksonville and parts of the Florida panhandle have had human cases this year.
The disease most often produces flu-like symptoms in people. However, it can sometimes cause more serious neurological damage and is fatal in about 5 percent of cases, according to Cheryl Dunn, environmental health manager at the Indian River County Health Department.
"People can use the (mosquito) repellents out there," Dunn said. "But be careful to read the instructions, because some are not for use on young children."
In addition to avoiding mosquito bites, Dunn also recommended people empty bird baths, unclog rain gutters and eliminate any other sources of standing water where mosquitoes can breed near homes.
Wednesday's test results were from blood samples taken about two weeks earlier and retested to reduce the chance of false readings.
Martin County already had scheduled aerial spraying of 63,000 acres Wednesday night, before the test results arrived. Gene Lemire, its director of mosquito control, said it was to knock down large numbers of the freshwater species of mosquito that transmits the disease.
"You should be concerned, but you shouldn't be panicky," Lemire said. "This is the time of year to avoid nighttime activities or dress in long clothing and wear mosquito repellent."
Shroyer said positives have come from six of eight flocks spread throughout Indian River County, indicating there is no one place more affected than another.