West Nile Virus May Be Spreading To Humans In Mississippi

Mississippi health officials are investigating what may turn out to be the first human case of West Nile virus in our state this year. They won't say where the case is.

West Nile is deadly in people. It's spread by mosquitos that feed on infected birds. It's also spread to horses.

Cases of West Nile in horses have been confirmed in Hancock, Pearl River, Scott and Wilkinson according to the state Health Department. Infected birds have turned up in Panola and Hinds counties.

West Nile is all over the southeast. Seven people have been infected in Louisiana. Infected birds and horses have been reported there, in Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas.

Health officials say they need your help in tracking this deadly disease. They also say there are measures you can take you protect yourself.

"We should always consider ourselves to be at risk," says Sally Slavinski, and Epidemiologist with the Mississippi Department of Health.

She tests dead and wild birds, as well as mosquitoes, but she needs more research. So she's encouraging Mississippians to call in dead bird sightings. She says blue jays and crows are the most vulnerable.

"We can actually submit and test those birds to see if they did die from West Nile and that allows us to identify West Nile Virus in an area," Slavinski says.

Officials say people cannot catch the disease from an infected animal, whether it be a bird or horse.

"The only way that you can get the disease is if the mosquito bites the infected bird and then either biting a horse or person, so there's not goning to be people to people or horse to horse infection," State Veterinarian, Dr. Jim Watson says.

West Nile virus is a brain infection which can be deadly. Health experts say one out of every 100 or 200 people bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus may get sick. But like many diseases, elderly people and children are most vulnerable.

Here are some tips to prevent mosquito bites and reduce the risk of West Nile virus.

  • Remove any standing water where mosquitos breed. Things like flower pots, dog dishes, or buckets.
  • Wear insect repellent with the ingredient DEET. The concentration should be 20 to 30 percent for adults, 10 percent for children.
  • Don't wear perfume or scented cosmetics or lotions outside.
  • Keep covered with longs sleeves & pants.
  • Avoid mosquitos when they're most active at dawn and dusk by staying indoors.

For more information on the West Nile virus, check out these websites: