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West Nile Threat Spreading Southward

There's a new threat in the South, transplanted from its northern neighbors--the West Nile virus. Mosquitoes in Georgia and Florida could be carrying the potentially deadly virus. Florida officials are mounting a pesticide spraying campaign following word that one resident may have been infected.

CBS's Mark Strassman reports this is the first time West Nile has spread as far south as Florida.

In Florida today, every dead bird is suspect--a potential carrier of the West Nile virus--and in this state lab, so far, 18 birds have tested positive.

In people, this mysterious virus can cause encephalitis, a brain swelling that's potentially fatal. At this Florida hospital, doctors believe they're treating the state's first West Nile victim, an unidentified elderly man.

"Anyone who has encephalitis can shut down body functions--stop breathing at some point. This individual suffers some of those complications." says Dr. Steven Wiersma, a Florida state epidemiologist.

West Nile spreads from mosquitoes feeding off wild birds that carry the virus.

In 1999, West Nile first broke out in New York City. Since then, it has killed ten Americans, and now it has migrated from urban to rural areas. But until today, the disease had not been detected south of the Carolinas.

"It shows us that we do live in a global society where infectious diseases from around the world at time can make their way to the United States," says Dr. Robert Brooks, Florida's secretary of health.

Catching the virus remains rare, and most sufferers notice, at most, flulike symptoms.

Those most at risk are the elderly: Florida has three million residents over 60.

And recent rains keep coaxing more and more mosquitoes to summer here, and Florida has a new public health threat.

One Miami resident says the bugs are "bigger than I have ever seen them."

With standing water everywhere, heath officials worried about mosquitoes have now put 14 north Florida counties on medical alert. And the virus will remain a worry here through fall.
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