A sentinel chicken in Brooksville has tested positive for the West Nile virus, prompting Hernando County to issue a cautionary alert.
The infected chicken was found on South Mildred Street in Brooksville, which means mosquitoes carrying the virus are in the area.
Al Gray, county environmental health manager, said temperatures are still hot and mosquitoes are active.
"West Nile peaks in the fall," Gray said. "August and September are probably the peak months. When it gets cold or there's a freeze, the mosquito population decreases drastically."
About one month ago, a 60-year-old Hillsborough County man became the first confirmed locally acquired case of West Nile virus in 2012.
The man was being treated with medication and is expected to recover.
"The sentinel chickens are there to alert us that there is West Nile virus circulating in the mosquito population," he said.
County mosquito control staffers are stepping up inspections and treatment in the Brooksville area, and they want to remind all Hernando County residents and visitors to be vigilant about mosquito-bite prevention.
The county has five flocks of chickens tested periodically to determine if they are carrying a mosquito-borne virus, which is not harmful to the chickens but can be deadly to humans and horses.
No human cases of West Nile have been reported in Hernando County but anyone in the area where the virus is circulating can get infected.
The risk for infection is highest for people who live in or visit woodland habitats and people who work outside or participate in outdoor recreational activities, because of greater exposure to potentially infected mosquitoes.
Symptoms of West Nile virus in humans appear four to 10 days after they are bitten by an infected mosquito.
Symptoms include sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting.
The Florida Department of Health encourages people who have recently been bitten by mosquitoes and are experiencing symptoms to contact their medical provider immediately. Diagnosis is based on tests of blood or spinal fluid.
There is no preventive vaccination for humans and no specific treatment for the West Nile virus. Horse owners are encouraged to have their horses vaccinated every six months to protect the horses from getting this deadly disease.
Residents can reduce the chance of getting infected by following these steps: