By NATHAN GREGORY
Though there have been no reports of anyone in Oktibbeha County being infected with the West Nile virus since 2007, there has been an increase in cases statewide in the last month, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.
MDH currently reports a total of 47 cases of humans contracting the virus in 2012 as of Wednesday. It had reported 33 cases Aug. 3.
The cases are in Adams, Calhoun, Coahoma, Covington, Forrest, Franklin, Hancock, Hinds, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Leflore, Lincoln, Madison, Marion, Monroe, Rankin, Smith, Stone, Sunflower, Wayne and Yazoo counties.
MDH District 4 Health Officer Dr. Robert Curry said this is the peak time of the year for the number of reported West Nile cases.
“We usually start seeing cases in July, August and September. This is time you expect to see those cases. Most of them actually occur after the end of July,” Curry said. “It’s hot, humid and wet time of year. With the rains we have that also causes more of a problem because the factor for this is the mosquito. Anywhere there’s standing water, whether that water is muddy or fairly clean, it doesn’t matter. Mosquitoes are going to breed there.”
Longest Student Health Center staff physician Dr. Cliff Story said symptoms of contracting the virus include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sore throat and abdominal pain.
“Some (people with the virus) may feel like they have the flu, and sometimes they feel worse. It can get really serious. People can get meningitis, although it’s unusual to get that. People who get progressive symptoms (such as being) confused or having a stiff neck go to the emergency room and get it checked out,” Story said. “Those that are at higher risk are people who are pregnant, small children or elderly, taking drugs for problems like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s more difficult for them to fight off particular illnesses because their immune systems are suppressed.”
Mississippi State University geosciences professor Dr. Bill Cooke said there are multiple hypotheses about how rainfall or lack thereof can effect the probability of more mosquitoes picking up the virus from standing water or birds and transmitting it to humans when they bite them.
“There is something called the drought hypothesis that says when you have a little rain during dry times an explosion of mosquito populations happens when that water becomes available that hasn’t been there,” Cooke said. “Whether a lot of rain promotes spreading or if droughts with rain does, no one knows for sure. We’re seeing conditions this year that are kind of both. We’ve had drought and rain and it’s come in high quantities for short periods of time. This might promote an idea that you see a response to constricted water supply and mosquitoes take advantage of water when it comes.”
Curry said just because Oktibbeha County and immediate outlying areas have not experienced any confirmed cases does not mean people should not take precautionary measures.
“One of the things we need to remember is West Nile is for the most part a disease that when we do get it we don’t even know we’ve got it, which is not to make light of the fact that it’s not important because 20 percent of those who get do and they’re very serious,” Curry said. “Not everybody who gets a severe case ever completely recovers. They can have neurological problems from (then) on. It can be so devastating and fatal to a few that we just really need to be careful because no one can predict who’s going to be the one who gets the really bad infection. We don’t see a lot of very bad West Nile, which is good, but the few we do see is bad enough.”
He said many preventative steps can be taken to avoid exposure.
“Most of mosquito bites occur late in the afternoon around dusk into the night and morning. Try to avoid being outside during that time. When you’re outside, wear long pants and long shirts. It is very important that we try to avoid exposure if possible and when it’s necessary to get outside, cover. Skin not covered needs to have mosquito repellent,” Curry said.