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    West Nile virus shows in Pinellas chicken

    By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 15, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- West Nile virus has been found in a sentinel chicken in St. Petersburg, marking the virus's return to Pinellas County.

    The chicken, part of a flock near Lake Maggiore, is the first confirmed case in the county this year. The sentinel chickens are kept to alert health officials to a variety of mosquito-borne diseases.

    "These chickens act as our lookout instead of just waiting for humans to get sick," said Dr. Julia Gill of the Pinellas County Health Department.

    Gill is expecting positive results of the West Nile virus in a few other chickens in the coming weeks.

    Last year, several sentinel chickens tested positive for the virus in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The virus was first detected in Florida in 2001 when 11 human cases were reported.

    The virus, which can be transmitted when mosquitoes bite humans, causes mild flu-like symptoms. It can also cause encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can lead to brain damage or death.

    Although no human cases of the virus have been reported in Florida this year, the positive test prompted warnings for residents to take precautions.

    "The important thing is to remember that all mosquito-borne illnesses are preventable," Gill said.

    Gill said there is no reason for alarm. She urged residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites by avoiding the outdoors at dusk and dawn, and by applying mosquito repellent.

    "It's definitely a new virus in this area," she said. "It's like the bacteria that causes meningitis. Some people can get very sick and die, and some people don't even know they have it."

    Across the country, there were 47 human cases last year of the West Nile virus. Three resulted in death.

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