Mississippi Seeks To Increase Awareness Of West Nile Virus

Mississippi emergency and public health officials on Monday announced a "Fight the Bite'' campaign to make people aware of how to avoid West Nile virus. Some 1.5 million fliers are being printed for placement on home doorknobs around the state starting later this week.

The fliers list several safety tips:

  • Avoid mosquitoes when possible.
  • Use mosquito repellent with the chemical DEET.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing outdoors, especially at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Eliminate pools of standing water.

Posters are being printed in English and Spanish, and TV and radio ads might be produced.

"If you live in Mississippi, you're at risk,'' state Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson said during a news conference at the Capitol.

A death in Hinds County has been linked to the virus, which has infected 41 in Mississippi. Thompson said the number will grow as health officials complete lab tests for other patients.

"Make no mistake, there will be more cases of West Nile virus in Mississippi,'' Thompson said.

He said he did not have an estimate of how much the state Health Department is spending on the public awareness campaign. The money came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency plans to seek other federal money to increase mosquito eradication around the state, said MEMA executive director Robert Latham. He said the state needs $3.5 million to $5 million for that effort.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on Friday declared an emergency that allows the state to apply for federal dollars. Latham said the key to killing mosquitoes is "to make sure that people don't just spray more - they spray more effectively.'' He said he did not know how many of the state's 82 counties are not already spraying for the pests.

Human cases of West Nile, a mosquito-borne disease that first appeared in the United States in 1999, have been confirmed in Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, Hancock, Hinds, Jackson, Lincoln, Marion, Pearl River, Pike, Rankin, Tallahatchie, Scott, and Yazoo counties. Cases in mosquitoes, birds or horses had been confirmed in 26 other counties by Monday.

Thompson said symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headaches and physical and mental disorientation. He said anyone showing those signs should seek medical help. Most people infected with West Nile recover, he said. The virus affects the elderly and those with weak immune systems the most.

The Health Department has received one report of a potential West Nile scam. Thompson said he was told at least one person has approached people with offers of a West Nile vaccine. There is no vaccine, he said. Anyone hearing of scams should call the Health Department or the state attorney general's office, Thompson said.