Health Officials Host West Nile Conference

Many counties in South Mississippi already take steps to control mosquitos, like spraying and cleaning ditches to drain the water. But some communities worry they may not be doing enough.

On Friday, about 70 city and county leaders from South Mississippi gathered in Hattiesburg to learn about the types of mosquitos that carry the virus, how to protect the public from the disease, and whether the chemicals and equipment they use to control mosquitos are safe and effective.

Public Health Veterinarian Brigid Elchos says "Because mosquito control is left up to local communities, and it's not state regulated, we're telling them what resources they have available, how they go about enforcing what they already have, and what they can do to enhance their programs".

State Medical Entomologist Jerome Goddard says "Some people still think they can put diesel fuel in a ditch or a pond. Some of these things are not only ineffective, but very environmentally unsound".

State health officials say as more cases of West Nile virus pop up in Mississippi, they want to ease public fears about the spread of the disease. Jerome Goddard says "Only about 1 in 150 people infected will show serious disease. For most people, nothing happens. You might get a little fever, a little headache, there's nothing to it".

The public officials say they want to learn all they can about West Nile, because they're the ones people often turn to for answers. Hattiesburg Police Officer David Ezell says "We've received a lot of phone calls from people, wondering what to do and how to prevent it. They also want to know what to do with birds in case they find them, so we feel it's our duty to be better informed".

Biloxi Chief Administrative Officer Jim Borsig says "The chances of actually contracting the disease are very small, but it's still something that's very serious. We need to do the right things, and the public needs to help us and we just don't need to panic".

The State Health Department is also working on a campaign about West Nile virus called "Fight the Bite". It includes public service announcements, door hangers and packets of information that will be distributed throughout Mississippi.

By: Trang Pham-Bui