The Mississippi State Department of Health confirmed a case of West Nile virus in Lowndes County Thursday, one of three reported statewide so far this year.
This year marks the first time on record that Lowndes County has reported at least one case of the virus two years in a row. Last year there were two cases reported in the county. There were five reported in 2006 and two reported in 2002.
Mississippi had a record high of confirmed cases last year, reporting a total of 247, including five deaths.
The other two cases reported this year have been in Forrest and Madison counties.
MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Hobbs said peak season for West Nile cases begins in July and ends in September. He said preventative measures that can be taken to avoid contracting the virus, including draining areas of standing water around the home and always wearing mosquito repellent.
“There’s a particular form of mosquito that can spread West Nile virus that typically likes to breed in concentrated pockets of water that can often be found in undrained locations around the home. Pots, clogged-up gutters, any container that has standing water that can get concentrated with organic matter is a perfect breeding site for these types of mosquitoes,” Dobbs said. “The first thing to do is to drain those sources of water so they don’t have a home to grow. The second will be to use approved mosquito repellents as directed, particularly in the early morning and early evening hours when these mosquitoes are most active and likely to bite. Other things to do would include wearing long sleeve pants or shirts as tolerable. It’s hot outside, but that’s also a measure that can be taken.”
Dobbs said weather played a significant role in the high number of West Nile cases reported last year. With that factor being unpredictable, it’s equally difficult to forecast how much activity the state can expect to see this summer, MSDH Communications Director Liz Sharlot said, but heavy rains followed by long periods of dry weather are conducive to the growth of the culex genus of mosquitoes carrying the virus.
“Last year on July 3 we reported the state’s first two human cases, so we’re about at the same level as we were last year, and usually we start seeing these cases as you go into peak season,” Sharlot said.
According to the Center for Disease Control, about 80 of 100 people who have contracted West Nile don’t have symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they begin three-to-14 days after the bite. CDC data indicates mild symptoms include headaches, body aches, fever, rash, fatigue and loss of appetite. In rare, more severe cases that can last for weeks or months, high fevers, paralysis, confusion, reduced attention to surroundings, convulsions and comas were symptoms.
Dobbs said other common places where mosquitoes with the virus can often appear include storm drains and abandoned or uncleaned pools. Another important prevention measure included sewage maintenance, he said.
“In municipalities and individual homes, dysfunctional waste water, sewer leaks or septic systems that are dysfunctional, that organic rich matter from sewage, they love it,” Dobbs said. “It’s important to maintain our septic systems adequately because those are hot breeding zones for mosquitoes.”
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.