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Education effort follows West Nile death

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Health officials in Fulton County stepped up their campaign Saturday to battle mosquitoes and inform citizens about West Nile virus after the announcement that an elderly woman died earlier this month from the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control confirmed the 71-year-old woman's death Friday as the first human fatality in Georgia from the West Nile virus. She died August 11 at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Latricia Hughes, spokeswoman for the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, said health officials in the metro Atlanta area would continue the same prevention and awareness campaign that has been in place since earlier this year. However, she noted more workers were assigned to the Fulton County area because of the woman's death.

Hughes said health workers visited personal care homes for the elderly Saturday, putting insecticide in standing water to kill mosquito larvae and informing residents of ways to reduce their risks of getting the virus.

CDC: Information about the West Nile virus  
CNN Access: West Nile experts say don't be scared, be careful  

Mosquitoes feed on birds infected with the virus and then bite humans, spreading the illness. The virus can cause encephalitis, a potentially fatal swelling of the brain.

While the elderly are most at risk for the West Nile virus, Dr. Scott Wetterhall of the Metro Atlanta West Nile Task Force noted that becoming infected with the virus is still rare.

"There have been some studies that have shown that in a given area a very, very small percentage -- perhaps one percent -- of mosquitoes are infected with the virus," Wetterhall told CNN. "The portion of people who become actually ill once they've been infected is even smaller and it's a very, very rare event for someone to become severely ill and succumb to the illness."

New York City health officials are scheduled to arrive in Atlanta Monday and meet with the Metro Atlanta West Nile Task Force to "compare notes" on how the two areas were dealing with the virus, Hughes said.

The first case of West Nile virus in the Western Hemisphere was reported in the New York area in 1999. Earlier this month, a 73-year-old Staten Island woman tested positive for the virus, the first confirmed case in New York for 2001.

From 1999 to 2000, 82 cases of the disease and nine deaths have occurred in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan areas.

In July, officials in several Florida counties began spraying for mosquitoes after two elderly people in Madison County, just east of Tallahassee, were diagnosed with West Nile virus. A medical alert was issued for 28 north Florida counties.

In Georgia, authorities said a hawk found in June in DeKalb County, on the east side of Atlanta, tested positive for West Nile virus.

Florida and Georgia residents are urged to avoid outdoor activities between dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are more likely to bite; to wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeve shirts; to use mosquito repellent; and to get rid of stagnant water where mosquitoes might breed.

• Mosquito-borne diseases (Ga. Dept. of Public Health)
• Georgia Department of Human Resources

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