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Health official: State may avoid mosquito surge

While other Southeastern states are warning residents of apossible surge in the mosquito population – and the greaterpotential for a West Nile crisis, Mississippi health officials saythere is no indication of such a danger here.

“I have not had anything reported to me,” said Dr. MillsMcNeill, state epidemiologist with the Mississippi Department ofHealth.

The species of mosquito that most commonly carries the West Nilevirus breeds in quiet, standing water. Some officials worry theheavy rainfall that has deluged the South in recent weeks couldcreate an optimum breeding ground.

However, McNeill said the amount of rainfall is not assignificant as its timing. High rainfall amounts would need tooccur at the appropriate time of the mosquito’s breeding cycle tohave a great affect, he said.

“It is reasonable to expect that if we’re getting a lot of rainwe could reasonably expect to see more mosquitoes because there ismore of a chance of that rainfall occurring at the appropriatetime,” McNeill said. “But we haven’t had any indication ofthat.”

Regardless of whether there is an increase in the mosquitopopulation or not, he said, it is wise for Mississippians tocontinue to take precautions to avoid the insects’ bites.

Those precautions include wearing long-sleeve shirts and fullpants and repellent with DEET and, when possible, avoiding beingoutside from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

An important element of protection from mosquitoes is theremoval of potential breeding areas near the home. Mosquitoes canbreed in areas as small as standing water in a bottle cap, McNeillsaid. He recommended unclogging drain gutters, draining flowerpotsand changing water in bird baths weekly.

“Anything we can do to eliminate potential breeding sitesobviously lowers the risk,” he said.

Mosquito season usually begins in late March and lasts throughthe first freeze with the peak period coming in late summer andfall.

The only case of West Nile so far this year was reported in abird from Covington County in March. The first human case last yearwas reported in June.

Once a virus like West Nile enters an area, it is generallythere to stay, McNeill said.

“We’ve had to learn with other mosquito-borne and tick-bornediseases in our state, and this one isn’t any different,” hesaid.

The trend in Mississippi has been for decreasing cases to appeareach year, but in “some states the statistics may increasesporadically. This trend is very encouraging, and we certainly hopethis decline continues.”

The first cases of West Nile in Mississippi were reported among25 horses and three birds in 2001.

The virus escalated in 2002 as it swept westward across theUnited States. In Mississippi alone, there were 193 human cases ofWest Nile with 12 deaths that year. An additional 323 horses and343 birds were confirmed to have the virus.

Public awareness of the virus led to a decline in 2003, McNeillsaid, but there were still 83 confirmed human cases in the stateresulting in two deaths. Animal cases also decreased to 143 inhorses and 111 in birds.

The number of cases in Mississippi continued to fall last yearwith only 52 human cases reported. However, the number of humandeaths rose to four. Forty horses and 90 birds were confirmed tohave the virus.

There is no cure for the virus. Initial symptoms areflulike.

“We encourage people to continue using personal protectivemeasures,” McNeill said. “Although the risk of getting West Nile issmall, it can be further reduced by taking those precautions.”

Only a handful of West Nile cases have ever been confirmed inLincoln County, but one death has been attributed to complicationsfrom the virus.