By CARL SMITH
The number of reported West Nile Virus cases in Mississippi continues to break previous records after the Mississippi State Department of Health reported two new infections Monday.
The newest human infections — individual cases from Wayne and Perry counties — bring the state total to 244 for the year. Five Mississippians have died from the disease this year.
Oktibbeha County medical officials have not reported any WNV cases in humans, horses or birds, but confirmed infections have occurred locally in Clay, Lowndes and Winston counties.
“We would consider this a considerate increase over previous years,” MSDH Deputy State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said. “There has been a significant variability in (confirmed WNV) cases from year to year, but this year has been significant for us.”
Mississippi’s increase in reported WNV infections, Byers said, shares a correlation between dramatic increases in other states. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every state health department in the continental U.S. has reported a human WNV infection. As of Tuesday, approximately 5,245 human infections and 236 deaths have been reported. That number is the highest amount of cases reported to the CDC through the last week of November since 2003.
Eighty percent of national human infections come from 13 states: Texas, California, Illinois, Mississippi, Michigan, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arizona, Ohio and New York.
One-third of all national cases have been reported from Texas.
Byers said health officials are unsure of the reasons surrounding the national increase in WNV infections.
WNV is transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, although isolated cases have been reported from blood transfusions, organ donations, mother-to-child pregnancy transfers and through breast milk. Humans cannot become infected through ordinary contact with infected birds, horses or people.
MSDH urges Mississippians to avoid outdoor settings during peak mosquito biting times; wear long-sleeved, long-legged clothing when practical and use mosquito repellent with DEET. People should also avoid areas where water has collected and sat still for a long period of time.