West Nile encephalitis has infected 22 people in Mississippi and state health officials are scrambling to stop the spread of the virus through mosquito control workshops for municipal leaders.
State health officer Ed Thompson said Friday that there are 14 new cases of the West Nile virus. There were seven cases announced last week. The first human case of West Nile virus in Mississippi was identified July 19.
Additional testing is needed to confirm some of the new cases, but Thompson said all 22 people have been or are being treated for West Nile virus symptoms. Eight people are hospitalized.
Thompson's announcement came at the first of three mosquito control workshops held by the Mississippi Department of Health in Jackson.
"West Nile appears to be producing an outbreak in Mississippi,'' Thompson said.
The new cases were reported in 11 counties. The patients range in age from 15 to 82, but most are over the age of 50. The virus has caused no deaths in Mississippi. Thompson said state health officials will test every case of encephalitis, or brain inflammation, that does not have an obvious cause.
"We're going to have more cases,'' Thompson said. "How many more depends on... how well people protect their families and how well communities protect their citizens by reducing mosquito populations.''
The West Nile virus has infected at least 88 people in three states. Louisiana officials reported 26 new cases and three deaths, bringing that state's total to 58, including four deaths.
West Nile has been reported in 22 counties in Mississippi in humans, animals and birds. The state health office has received reports of dead birds in all 82 counties.
"That suggests to us that we have a widespread problem,'' Thompson said. "The risk of getting encephalitis is not great, but it is real.''
The latest cases include 10 more Hinds County residents, Thompson said. Most of the other cases are spread across the southern half of the state. None of the individuals were identified.
West Nile can cause deadly brain inflammation in humans and animals. Most West Nile encephalitis infections are mild. Symptoms include fever, headache and body aches, occasionally with skin rash and swollen lymph glands. No vaccine exists for humans.
At the workshop, health officials took the time to talk about other mosquito-borne illnesses. About 40 attended Friday's meeting.
"Every summer we see some type of mosquito-borne disease,'' said Dr. Robert Hotchkiss, medical director of Public Health for the Jackson District. "The problem in general is not a new problem.''
West Nile virus struck earlier this year than ever before in this country. Most cases have been diagnosed in August or September since the first and worst outbreak, which killed seven and hospitalized 55 more in New York in 1999.
Dr. Anthony Marfin, a West Nile expert at the CDC, said during a teleconference Thursday that the early start could be because warm Deep South winters let mosquitoes stay alive year-round to spread the virus to birds, or because there is a drought in many states.
The virus is named after the West Nile district in Uganda, where it was first discovered in 1937.
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 long 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: