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Dry weather brings early round of mosquitoes

Health officials are urging state residents to use caution andto take steps to discourage mosquito breeding as recent dry weatherconditions have led to an increase in the number of West Nile virusand St. Louis encephalitis transmitting insects.

The Mississippi Department of Health officials have beenconducting mosquito trapping throughout the state and have found a10- to 30-fold increase in the number of Southern House Mosquitoes,the breed most responsible for transmitting the potentiallylife-threatening viruses, said Kelly Shannon, a public relationsofficial with the health department.

The increase is especially alarming since August and Septemberare the peak months for the mosquito-borne virus, said Dr. MillsMcNeill, state epidemiologist. July, however, typically opens themosquito season.

“While mosquito numbers in themselves do not mean there will bea corresponding increase of cases of WNV or SLE, the public shouldstill take personal protective measures against mosquito bites,” hesaid.

Only one human case of WNV, in Copiah County, has been confirmedthis year, according to MDH statistics. That case was reported May2.

Last year, there were four human cases of the deadly virusreported by the end of July. Cases were reported in Hinds, Jones,Pike and Rankin counties.

“One for the dangers that we face in terms of reporting is thatwe wouldn’t want to imply that because (a case has not beenreported) West Nile is not there. We believe West Nile existsthroughout the state,” McNeill said.

Health officials believe recent dry weather conditions havesparked the sudden increase in mosquito populations by providingmore fetid organic matter for the insects to lay their eggs in.

“The Southern House Mosquito breeds in water containing highamounts of organic matter, such as rotting grass or wastewater,”said Dr. Jerome Goddard, a state epidemiologist. “During dryweather, water remaining in ditches becomes highly concentratedwith organic matter.”

The best preventative steps are those designed to protectagainst mosquito bites, he said.

The Health Department recommends avoiding being outdoors at dawnand dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. Other tips includewearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, eliminating standing wateraround the home as a potential breeding site, repairing torn orbroken window screens and using insect repellents that containDEET, the chemical picaridin or the oil of lemon eucalyptus.

Symptoms of WNV infection are often mistaken for the flu. Theyinclude fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weaknessor swollen nymph nodes. In a small number of people, infection canresult in encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to paralysis,coma or even death.

Public education on the danger of mosquito-borne viruses andtheir prevention is a major focus of the Health Department’s FightThe Bite campaign. For more information on West Nile see the HealthDepartment’s Web site at www.healthyMS.com.