Musgrove Appeals FEMA's Denial Of Emergency Funding

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has appealed a denial of federal emergency funding to help Mississippi in its fight against the West Nile virus.

Musgrove requested $8.1 million Wednesday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The governor said the federal aid would reimburse communities for their efforts to eradicate mosquitos that spread the disease.

"We continue to exhaust every possible source of funding to support our efforts to combat the West Nile virus in Mississippi,'' Musgrove said in a statement.

There have been three West Nile virus deaths in Mississippi, one each in Pike, Madison and Hinds counties. As of the most recent report, there have been 91 confirmed cases in the state.

As of Wednesday, 480 cases were reported nationwide and 24 deaths have been linked to West Nile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Also on Wednesday, the CDC gave $700,000 to the state Department of Health. That money is part of nearly $6.4 million allotted to health agencies in 16 states.

"These funds will assist states and cities with programs that monitor the spread of West Nile virus and improve their capability to protect their citizens,'' said Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees the CDC.

The CDC has also deployed epidemiologists and clinicians to Mississippi and had previously given the state health agency $300,000, Thompson said. The funds fall short of the state Department of Health's request for $3.4 million for education efforts and surveillance and prevention of the disease, said agency spokeswoman NancyKay Sullivan Wessman.

The health department plans to expand its public education campaign by advertising prevention methods on some 150 billboards starting Friday, Wessman said.

FEMA this past Friday denied requests from Mississippi and Louisiana to fight the virus, saying assistance was best left to health agencies such CDC. Earlier, CDC provided Louisiana $3.4 million and other help to Louisiana, where eight people have died. Robert Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said federal funding from the CDC only reflects part of the state's need since the funds cannot be used for direct preventive measures, such as spraying insecticide.

"The Health and Human Services grant has not addressed the enormous costs incurred by cities and counties,'' Latham said. "Mosquito spraying, protective measures, are not something a lot of cities and counties have budgeted for. We've got to stop the spread of mosquitos.''

Latham said the requested $8.1 million reflects money already spent and projected costs of mosquito eradication efforts through the mosquito season that could last into early November. FEMA gave disaster aid to New York and New Jersey when those states faced a West Nile outbreak in 1999.

Health officials say the virus is most dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems. Most people bitten by an infected mosquito never get sick, and most of the rest see only flu-like symptoms. A small percentage of people contract encephalitis, a potentially fatal infection of the brain.