By CARL SMITH
Reported West Nile Virus cases in Mississippi broke record numbers in 2012.
As of Dec. 11, 249 human cases of the mosquito-borne illness were reported in the state, compared to 52 instances in 2011. Deaths due to the illness, however, remained equal to the previous year’s total of five.
While Oktibbeha County medical officials have not reported any WNV exposure in humans, horses or birds as of mid-December, instances were reported in Clay, Lowndes and Winston counties.
“We would consider this a considerate increase over previous years,” MSDH Deputy State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said in November. “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 shares a correlation with 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 Dec. 11, approximately 5,387 human infections and 243 deaths have been reported. That number is the highest amount of cases reported to the CDC through the second week of December 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.