West Nile Virus Confirmed in Florida

West Nile virus has been confirmed in a dead crow in Jefferson County, Fla. The crow was submitted for testing on June 18, and results were released July 6.

The disease, which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, made its debut in the Western Hemisphere in birds, horses, and humans in late summer of 1999 in New York. It has survived two winters, and in 2000 it spread as far west as Erie County, Pa., and as far south as North Carolina.

Of 25 reported equine positives in 1999, nine horses died or were euthanized; of 60 equine cases in 2000, 23 horses died or were euthanized. The Florida finding means the virus has traveled south without detection in South Carolina or Georgia.

"With everything that has occurred, we expected (West Nile virus), and we're going to treat it like other arboviral diseases," said Dr. Leroy M. Coffman, the Florida state veterinarian and a director with Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "The standard protocols are already there, we just hope that we can get a vaccine available to the horse owners soon."

The state is experienced in handling other mosquito-borne diseases. Florida recently had confirmation of 27 horses with Eastern equine encephalitis, for which there is a vaccine. Coffman said a WNV vaccine is being tested in the Northeast, and could be available as early as this fall.