State Health Officials Say Death Likely Due To West Nile

State health officials say a Hinds County resident has likely died from the West Nile virus, the first person to die in the state from the mosquito-borne illness.

"Lab results just obtained are such that the person meets the surveillance case definition for West Nile virus,'' said Dr. Ed Thompson, the state health officer.

The Mississippi case brings to six the number of West Nile-related deaths in the nation. The other five were in Louisiana.

The Mississippi death is still under investigation. Thompson said it was possible the death might not be due to West Nile virus, but more than likely it was.

Thompson, contacted in Atlanta by The Associated Press, said Mississippi has six new cases of West Nile virus, bringing the state's total to 34. Eighteen of those cases are confirmed and 16 are probable.

Thompson first disclosed the Mississippi death Thursday during a national teleconference discussion about West Nile at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. State health officials would not disclose the age or gender of the Mississippi death.

Of the 34 cases recorded in Mississippi to date, those infected range in age from 3 to 82. The majority of cases have occurred in people over the age of 50, Thompson said.

NancyKay Sullivan Wessman, the Department of Health's spokeswoman, said the public needs to be aware of protection measures against West Nile. Officials recommend bug spray and long clothes at dusk to protect against mosquitoes.

Meanwhile, the federal government is giving Mississippi $300,000 to fight West Nile, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday in Wisconsin. Ed Thompson said Mississippi had applied for the funds to increase laboratory capacity and to do additional surveillance to fight the illness.

"I'm please to hear that we've gotten those funds,'' he said. Thompson said the number of West Nile cases in Mississippi is likely to rise.

"Our estimation is that we're likely to have considerably more cases before this is over, but we don't have any way of knowing how many,'' he said. "Our season lasts well into September or even into October, depending on the weather.''