West Nile Worries Some As Football Season Approaches

The West Nile virus has Mississippi and Louisiana officials worried that more people may contract the mosquito-borne encephalitis as football season kicks off later this month.

Two deaths have been attributed to West Nile in Mississippi and seven people have died from the virus in Louisiana, where at least 85 people have contracted West Nile encephalitis this year. The virus has been found in every state from Texas to the Atlantic.

David Derrick, executive director of the Mississippi Private School Association, which represents 122 private schools in Mississippi Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, said Wednesday that plans are in the works to battle the mosquito-borne virus.

"We are collaborating right now with the Mississippi state Department of Health... as to the best way to be pro-active about preparing for these outdoor activities,'' Derrick said.

"We had a similar situation like this about two or three years ago with an encephalitis breakout over in Louisiana,'' he said. "So it is not a new issue for us with the exception that this particular disease can be contracted through mosquitoes.''

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is urging public and private school officials to take steps to reduce the presence of mosquito breeding sites on school property. Louisiana health officials asked schools Wednesday to consider moving night events to earlier in the day. They are also asking schools to offer parents the choice of whether their child should attend outdoor events and to encourage all participants to use mosquito repellent.

Mississippi has 48 human cases of West Nile. More than 145 people are infected nationwide. NancyKay Sullivan Wessman, a Mississippi health department spokeswoman, said Thursday that health officials expect to have the results of 56 additional tests on Thursday.

"We do expect that we'll continue to see additional cases,'' Wessman said after announcing the state's second West Nile death Tuesday.

Wessman said the health department will soon send educational materials to schools across the state to warn them about the dangers of West Nile and offer ways to protect against the virus.

"We are concerned about football games because early morning, near-dusk, and especially after-dark events pose a potential danger for students and spectators,'' Wessman said. "We will be encouraging school administrations and their safety officers to do surveillance of the campuses where these events will take place and to do mosquito control.''

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given $17 million to states, including Mississippi, to fight mosquitoes, and said an additional $10 million would go into the battle. 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 has declared an emergency that allows the state to apply for federal dollars. Derrick said the MPSA is working to make sure that communities spend some of the money spraying for mosquitoes in areas near football stadiums.

"We do recognize that whatever we do, it will be very important that the local communities... work closely with our schools, both public and private,'' Derrick said. "We don't know what the (Mississippi) health department will suggest, but we do know that one of the options that we have is to have (school) authorities in each local municipality or county take advantage of what they are already doing.''