State sees fewer reported cases of West Nile virus in 2007

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Published: December 17,2007

Mississippi is ending 2007 with fewer cases of West Nile virus than last year. The Department of Health’s statistics reveal 126 confirmed cases with the most in the three counties of the metro Jackson area. Madison County had 21 cases and Hinds and Rankin counties each had 13. Leflore County ranked fourth with eight cases. Many of the state’s counties had no positive cases and others had only one or two.

“Although we had fewer West Nile Virus cases this year than last year, it was a relatively large number compared to other states,” said State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson. “We’ve come to realize that Mississippi will have an up-surge of cases in the summer and fall. It slows down in the winter.”

He believes the state will continue to see the West Nile Virus and that it is here to stay. “We don’t know exactly why we have more here. Some states in the upper Midwest, such as South Dakota, also have a lot of cases. We haven’t worked out why. We just know we’ve had a lot since it began.”

Thompson said there is some practical research of an observatory nature being done on West Nile Virus in the state, but most research is being done by the National Centers for Disease Control and other national organizations.

Dr. Skip Noland, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said as long as there are mosquitoes around, there’s some risk, although not as much risk in cold weather.

“There’s some risk around here all the time,” he said. “The major thing is avoiding mosquito bites. Living in Mississippi, people ought to know how to do that — stay indoors during evening hours, wear long sleeves when you go out and use mosquito repellent.”

Noland pointed out that the mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus are adapted to urban environments. That means they can breed in a very small amount of water. He recommends checking around lawns and houses after a rain to eliminate any standing water.

“It’s important to note that the vast majority of people infected don’t have complications. It’s asymptomatic,” he said. “The West Nile fever is relatively mild, sort of like a cold. Most people don’t become serious and don’t know they have it.”

Among those with serious complications, the majority — approximately 70% — are over age 65, and healthcare professionals do see some serious infections.

“Still, in absolute numbers, a very small number of people have complications,” he added. “One day there will probably be a vaccine for this. There is already a vaccine for horses.”

Noland said researchers are not sure where the virus came from, although some strains came from Africa. What is seen in this country is most closely related to a strain out of Israel which made its way to New York and spread from birds to humans.

At Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, only two positive cases were seen this year, a decrease from the identified nine cases in 2006, but more than 2005 when no cases were seen.

Annette Biksey, a registered nurse and infection control specialist, said, “We do screen a significant number of patients, but this year had only two positive cases. The positive cases we have had since 2002 all occurred from July to October. This coincides with the time of year that people are engaged in outdoor activities and more prone to mosquito bites.”

She said neither of the two positive cases has returned with residual problems related to West Nile Vir

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.us.

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