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West Nile cases more than double in Alabama

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A lengthy drought seemingly should lead to a drop in cases of West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes breeding in standing water. But with 14 cases reported in 2007, Alabama has more than doubled the five seen in 2006 despite this year's extremely dry conditions.

Health and insect experts say the many factors involved make it hard to gauge outbreaks and it could get even worse in the coming weeks.

"It's unpredictable and that's why people need to assume every year that there are going to be infected birds in their areas and take precautions," state epidemiologist Dr. J.P. Lofgren said Wednesday.

West Nile is spread when mosquitoes feed on the blood of infected birds and then bite humans. Three people have died from the disease this year and nine of the 14 cases have been in Montgomery.

West Nile can result in encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, and severe symptoms can include neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, muscle weakness and vision loss. Health officials say 12 of the 14 cases this year involved encephalitis and the victims range in age from 15 to 86.

Concentration of cases

Auburn University entomologist Garry Mullen said it's not surprising that most of the cases are concentrated in a particular area since droughts cause animals to cluster where water is available.

Montgomery appears to be a place "where conditions are still right" and the city's birds likely have a higher infection rate than those elsewhere, he said.

"In drought years it tends to be more concentrated in select areas where you've had a focus of infected birds," he said. "In a wet year you might have seen the cases spread out more evenly, but it's far more patchy in drought years."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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