August 22, 2012 10:26:08 AM
West Nile virus is reaching its peak throughout the state, with Lowndes and Monroe counties among the most recent to report diagnosed cases.
The Mississippi State Department of Health, which records a West Nile Virus tally in real-time on its website, reports 80 human cases in the state this year and 28 diagnosed horses.
Nationwide, 26 people have died of West Nile virus in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In Mississippi this year, 76 cases have been confirmed, and there has been one death.
Oktibbeha, Noxubee and Clay counties have had no diagnosed cases so far this year.
Last year, 52 people in Mississippi were diagnosed with the disease, and five deaths were attributed to it.
Although the danger of West Nile exists any time mosquitoes are present, it is most prevalent from July to September, but people shouldn't be lulled into complacency by low numbers in their county, MSDH Communications Director Liz Sharlot said Tuesday.
The CDC estimates only one in 150 infected people will develop severe symptoms, which may include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness or paralysis.
Only 20 percent of infected people will experience milder symptoms like fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph nodes or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
Four out of five people who are bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus show no symptoms at all.
It takes three to 14 days for symptoms to appear, but recovery can vary from days to weeks, and in the most serious cases, neurological effects may be permanent. Those over the age of 50 are at highest risk, as are those who spend long periods of time outside, especially at dawn or dusk, when mosquitoes feed.
To be diagnosed with West Nile virus, a person must display at least two clinical symptoms that are confirmed by a positive blood test. There is no treatment for the illness and no vaccine against it.
The best prevention is a good defense, Sharlot said.
Avoid going outside between dawn and dusk, and if you must be outdoors, use an insect repellent, preferably one that contains DEET.
Dress appropriately, wearing light-colored, long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks and shoes. For extra protection, tuck pants legs into shoes or socks and button collars and cuffs.
Remove sources of standing water around the home, like plastic containers, old tires and bird baths, and make sure roofs, drains, ditches and culverts are free of debris so water can drain.
When West Nile virus first appeared in Mississippi in 2002, MSDH officials held instructional programs at schools and left flyers and leaflets in neighborhoods, Sharlot said. Now, as awareness has risen, a new challenge exists -- convincing people to take precautions.
"Use protection and use common sense," Sharlot stressed. "Mosquitoes are in Mississippi year-round, but please be especially mindful in July, August and September. We see the bulk of our cases at this time. It's so important that people not get caught up in how many cases are in their county. It's throughout the state."
Lowndes County Road Manager Ronnie Burns said his crews have only been spraying for mosquitoes twice a week lately, and in June and July, they rarely sprayed at all. They typically only spray in areas where residents complain, but complaints are increasing steadily now, he said.
It's not so much a matter of conserving money as it is trying to cope with only one mosquito sprayer for each side of the river.
"We pick areas that are lowest and tend to hold water unless we get a call that it's really bad," Burns said. "We don't just go out there and do it just to be doing it."
Residents can also call the road department at 662-329-5885 to request chemical-laced mosquito dunks for ponds and other areas.
For those concerned about their pets, though West Nile virus can be contracted by cats, dogs and other animals, it is primarily seen in horses, birds and humans, said Dr. Alejandro Banda, associate clinical professor with the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
It cannot be passed from animals to humans or vice versa. It can only be contracted from a mosquito that is infected with the virus.
For more information, visit healthyms.com/westnile or call the state health department's toll-free hotline at 1-877-978-6453, where from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, live representatives stand ready to answer questions.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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