Mosquito-borne illnesses growing in Florida as West Nile virus crops up in chickens

Howard Cohen

The West Nile virus doesn’t just set up shop in humans.

Flocks of chickens in Florida have tested positive for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile and Eastern equine encephalitis infection (EEEV) in the last month.

The West Nile virus was found in chickens in the Belle Glade and Pahokee areas this week, the Florida Department of Health said Thursday.

In late July, several sentinel chickens tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis in Orange County, and the risk to transmission to humans is increasing, the Florida Department of Health said.

The health department places “sentinel chicken flocks” in places around Florida — including Palm Beach County from Delray Beach to Jupiter and from West Palm Beach to Belle Glade and Pahokee, WPTV reported.

They do this to test the blood of these birds weekly to detect mosquito-borne viruses like West Nile and EEEV.

In addition, earlier this month a second case of locally acquired dengue fever was confirmed in Miami-Dade County.

Second case of local dengue fever confirmed in Florida this year — both in Miami-Dade

West Nile virus details

West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The virus is most commonly spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. Given the daily rain storms in South Florida, mosquitoes are rampant these days.

Currently, there are no vaccines to prevent West Nile or medications to treat the virus.

Most people — about 8 out of 10 — who are infected with West Nile virus do not feel sick, the CDC says.

But about 1 in 5 who do get infected can get a fever or other symptoms like headaches, nausea or diarrhea. And 1 out of 150 infected people can develop a serious and sometimes fatal illness attacking the central nervous system, such as encephalitis, the CDC says.

Safety tips

“Drain and cover,” coined the Florida Department of Health.


Drain water from garbage cans and lids, gutters and planters and flower pots around the yard. Don’t give mosquitoes places to breed.

Ditch old tires, drums, bottles and other broken appliances you might have scattered about the yard.

Cover up. Wear long sleeves, shoes and socks and long pants when outdoors.

Apply mosquito repellent sprays with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (except on children 3 and younger; check precautions first), para-menthane-diol, and IR3535.