A Pike County resident hospitalized with West Nile encephalitis died Tuesday, bringing to three the number of deaths in the state linked to the virus. The previous West Nile deaths in Mississippi were a Hinds County resident and a Madison County resident.
State health officer Dr. Ed Thompson has declined to release the gender and age of the deceased for fear of identification. Thompson said the intensity of this summer's outbreak has caught the state health department by surprise, though the department has been preparing for an outbreak since the West Nile was first detected in animals.
"What no one expected was to see an outbreak of the intensity as we and Louisiana are having,'' Thompson said. "It's like preparing for a hurricane. You have no idea how strong it's going to be.''
Nationwide, 12 deaths, eight in Louisiana, have been linked to the virus.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported the death of an elderly Kentucky man who had been hospitalized with the virus. One death in Illinois has also been attributed to West Nile. Mississippi has reported 64 cases of West Nile virus. Thompson identified nine new cases on Tuesday.
Cases were reported for the first time in Copiah, Jasper and Monroe Counties. Six additional cases were reported in Forrest, Hinds and Pike Counties. Residents of those three counties account for over half of West Nile patients. Thompson said recent adjustments have helped the department cope with the outbreak.
Just this spring, the department equipped and staffed its laboratory to test for West Nile virus so it could run tests in its own facility, Thompson said. Where the strain of the outbreak has been felt, Thompson said, is on community control efforts.