Official says start West Nile fight now

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 19, 2004

Spring is making its presence felt in Mississippi as flowersbloom, grass greens and, yes, mosquitoes begin taking flight.

Officials with the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH)are again encouraging state residents to take the properprecautions against the flying blood suckers to prevent anotherdeadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus.

“Last year, our WNV numbers were much lower. We’re hoping thisyear there will be even fewer cases of the mosquito-borne illness.The public is listening and taking precautions, which helpstremendously in fighting the bite,” state epidemiologist Dr. MillsMcNeill said.

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During the 2003 WNV season, Mississippi reported 83 human casesand two deaths. Symptoms are often mild or flu-like and may includefever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weakness andswollen lymph nodes. In a small number of people, infection canresult in encephalitis and meningitis, which may lead to paralysis,coma and possibly death.

“Preventative measures have had an impact,” McNeill said. “Lastyear we saw lower rates of illness than we did in 2002, when WestNile erupted onto the scene.”

The West Nile Virus received national attention in 2002, butespecially in Mississippi where there were a total of 193 confirmedhuman cases and 12 deaths.

There were also 323 infected horses and 343 birds in 2002. Thatcount was down to 143 horses and 111 birds in 2003.

“We saw a significant decrease in all areas last year,” McNeillsaid. “We would like to think that will continue and certainly hopeso.”

The spread of the virus is impossible to predict, he said,because some areas have shown a reciprocal effect where infectionswill decline then suddenly increase. Mississippi, however, hascontinued to show a general decline since the major outbreak in2002.

“I think if we keep a concerted effort out there in terms ofprevention, we can continue to stay on top of this,” he said.

The MSDH confirmed Mississippi’s first identification of themosquito-borne West Nile Virus in a bird collected in this MarionCounty earlier this month.

Birds are traditionally the first to show signs of West Nileactivity.

“People simply need to be aware that West Nile will be in ourstate for years to come, and we just need to learn to live with itas we have other mosquito-born transmittable diseases such as St.Louis and Eastern Equine Encephalitis,” McNeill said.

The MSDH makes the following recommendations: avoidmosquito-prone areas, especially at night when the insects are mostactive; wear protective clothing; and use insect repellents thatcontain DEET on exposed skin when outdoors.

McNeill also recommended taking steps to mosquito-proof homes byinstalling wire mesh too small for mosquitoes to fly through and byeliminating any standing water.

“Anything we can do to eliminate breeding areas certainlyreduces the possibility of being bitten,” he said.

Water that cannot be drained, such as bird baths or swimmingpools, should be changed weekly or treated to prevent breeding, hesaid.

For the latest on WNV and other mosquito-borne illnesses, visitthe MSDH Web site at