State combats active West Nile virus year

Published 5:00 am Thursday, October 12, 2006

An unusually active year has seen the number of West Nile viruscases more than double last year’s total, according to state healthofficials.

Dr. Jerome Goddard, medical entomologist for the MississippiDepartment of Health, said the state has seen 152 human cases ofthe virus this year, more than doubling 2005 statistics.

The peak season for the virus is between July and September, hesaid, although some people have become infected with the virus evenduring the winter months.

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Protective measures to avoid being bitten by the mosquitoes thattransfer West Nile, such as wearing long pants and sleeves to coverexposed areas of skin and using an effective mosquito repellent,should continue to be taken, Goddard said.

“Although it would seem counter-intuitive, a lack of rainfallduring the year has been a major factor in the higher number ofcases of WNV,” he said.

Mosquito larvae require standing water in which to develop intoadults, and, in times of drought, standing water is rich in organicmatter, making it ideal for mosquito breeding. Higher populationsof mosquitoes translates into more mosquitoes capable oftransmitting the virus, Goddard said.

Some areas around the state, such as Forest County, have seen aparticularly large increase in the number of human cases, but oftenthe cause of the outbreak can be difficult to determine, hesaid.

“Much is unknown about West Nile virus ecology,” Goddard said.”Outbreaks seem to be very local in nature. One factor seems to bethe drought in that area which produced more of the West Nile virusmosquito.”