Four deaths in Mississippi from West Nile virus

September 7, 2012 11:59:55 AM



JACKSON -- Michele Martin's son Drew is one of the lucky ones. 


He survived the West Nile virus despite living in a county that leads the state in the number of cases and where the third and fourth deaths this year from infection were reported Wednesday. 


The active Richland 14-year-old was sidelined by severe fever, headache, fatigue and lack of appetite in mid-August. 


After falling ill on a Sunday and being admitted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children the following Tuesday, he was released three days later to continue his recovery from West Nile virus at his Richland home. 


Today, "you can't even tell something had been wrong with him," the ninth-grader's mom said. "He's fully recovered, but it took him a good 10 days to get his appetite back." 


She's sobered that the Mississippi Department of Health on Wednesday reported the state's two latest West Nile virus deaths of 2012 were Rankin County residents. Rankin County leads the state with 27 confirmed cases, six in the last week. 


Statewide, 120 cases have been reported, said Dr. Paul Byers, deputy epidemiologist with the Health Department. 


That's more than double the 52 documented cases during 2011. Officials say West Nile this year is epidemic, the worst since it arrived in the state about a decade ago. 


"We hope we don't have any more deaths this year. One is too many," Byers said. "But unfortunately, this can be a severe illness in some people, and sometimes we do see deaths." 


Since last week, 19 new cases have been documented. Hinds County has 13, the county with the next-highest tally, including one since last week. Documented cases are those confirmed through laboratory testing; other cases exist, but haven't always been documented or reported. 


Symptoms are often mild and may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weakness or swollen lymph nodes. 


In a small number of cases, infection can result in encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to paralysis, coma and possibly death. 


In more severe cases, victims suffer mobility impairment and must undergo physical therapy to regain the ability to walk and use their limbs. 


Dr. Art Leis, a clinical professor of neurology at UMC, treats patients at Methodist Rehabilitation Center who have had nerve cell death caused when the virus attacks the brain and spinal cord. He also has done research on the lingering effects of the virus. 


"Most people infected don't have a lot of symptoms - maybe 80 percent," Byers said. "So for people to get diagnosed and reported to us, they have to be sick enough to go to their doctor, and the doctor has to do the test on them. We're still getting reports of people who were sick in August. There can be an incubation period of a couple of weeks." 


Last year, Mississippi had 52 West Nile cases and five Mississippians died. The two other deaths this year were from Smith and Lincoln counties. 


The Health Department is also reporting a human case of La Crosse Encephalitis in Lawrence County. 


"We're just at the beginning of September. We're in the most significant time of the year for us to get cases reported," Byers said. 


"The big thing we want to continue to push is for folks who go outside to be sure and take precautions, especially after big rains." 


And, he said, don't get a false sense of security when cooler temperatures roll in this weekend. 


"This mosquito is active all year round," Byers said. "Regardless of the temperature, if you are outside, you must take the proper precautions."