Possible human West Nile case reported here

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 30, 2004

Lincoln County is one of five counties in the state to report apossible human case of West Nile as the mosquito-borne virus seasonbegins, state health department officials said.

Other counties that reported a possible West Nile infectionThursday included Covington, Harrison, Rankin and Simpson.

Mississippi Department of Health officials are waiting for theresults of lab tests on the five cases before issuing West Nileconfirmation.

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“The human cases in past years have usually begun in July, butwe are actually seeing fewer cases this year,” said Dr. MillsMcNeill, an epidemiologist with the health department.

Last year, 83 people in Mississippi were infected with thevirus, resulting in two deaths. By this time in July last yearthere were 12 confirmed human cases of West Nile infection, hesaid.

“We expect it to be here for the long term,” McNeill said. “Itis just one of those viruses like Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE)that we’ll have to learn to live with.”

The human cases are new, he said, but the health department hasbeen monitoring West Nile activity throughout the state.

“We’ve already had a number of isolations in 19 birds, one horseand one mosquito pool,” he said.

The horse was also found in Lincoln County this week, McNeillsaid, but that is no reason for additional fear.

“The virus occurs throughout the state. A positive result in onearea does not necessarily mean in escalation of the virus in thosecounties,” he said. “Research has shown they are not at any greaterrisk.”

West Nile infections in birds have been isolated in 13counties.

“The message is the same throughout the state: It is here andtake precautions,” McNeill said. “However, most people who areinfected do not even become ill. Very few get ill, and of thoseonly one in about every 150 infections result in the severe form ofencephalitis or meningitis. It is not a disease that should causeany exceptional fear.”

In most cases, those infected by West Nile virus experience onlymild, flu-like symptoms. In some cases, however, the virus cantrigger dangerous, and sometimes lethal, cases of encephalitis ormeningitis.

Those most at risk of the severe form of the virus are peopleover 50 years of age, McNeill said.

“This increases in direct proportion with increased age,” hesaid.

Mississippians have a long history of battling mosquito-borneviruses, he said, and West Nile is no different.

“West Nile is only one of several mosquito-borne infections welive with every day,” McNeill said. “Anything we can do to protectourselves from one also gives us increased protection from theothers.”

The health department is taking a three-pronged approach onbattling mosquito-borne viruses, he said. All three require publicinvolvement.

Health officials are urging people to avoid mosquito bites bystaying inside during the busy dawn and dusk hours and by wearingrepellent containing DEET when involved in outdoor activities.

They also recommend homeowners mosquito-proof their property byeliminating standing water at least weekly and install windowscreens designed to prohibit mosquitoes from entering thedwelling.

People can assist the health department in their efforts tomonitor the virus by reporting any dead birds that are found. Somespecies are more susceptible to the virus than others, McNeillsaid, and crows, blue jays, sparrows, cardinals and raptors havebeen found to be the best indicators. Any birds found withoutobvious injuries should be reported to the local healthdepartment.

Most cities and counties, including Brookhaven and Monticello,have increased their mosquito spraying efforts since the emergenceof West Nile to battle the threat.