Last year, Georgia saw an increase in West Nile virus cases — 47 human cases, including seven deaths. That was up from seven human cases and no confirmed deaths related to West Nile in 2016.
While Eastern Equine Encephalitis is rare, there have been three reported cases in the state, all in South Georgia, over the past 10 years, a health official confirmed to Channel 2 Action News. EEE is rare in humans, and only a few cases are reported in the United States each year, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases occur in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.
News of the deaths and illnesses prompted officials to sound the alarm and urge people to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
"Georgians can reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes and yards by getting rid of standing water," GDPH director of environmental health Chris Rustin said. "Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that may be infected with West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases."
Human cases of West Nile virus tend to peak in late August and September.
The CDC says about 1 in 5 people who are infected with West Nile develop a fever and other symptoms, and about 1 out of 150 develop a serious illness that can be fatal.
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People are advised to get rid of containers that can collect water, such as flower pots, buckets and pool covers, because they can give mosquitoes a place to thrive.
Mosquitoes that carry the virus usually bite at dusk and dawn, so avoid or limit outdoor activity at those times.
The following strategies also are recommended:
• Wear loose-fitting pants and long-sleeved shirts to reduce the amount of exposed skin;
• Cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing DEET, which is the most effective repellent against mosquito bites;
• Empty containers holding standing water;
• Make sure doors and windows are in good repair, and fix damaged screens to keep mosquitoes out of the house.