Fight the Bite: West Nile Virus in Mississippi
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (August 20, 2015) Summer time in Mississippi means baseball, children at play, water parks, and some of the most annoying bugs known to man…..mosquitoes. Many of us have dealt with mosquitoes and their bites our entire life and just accepted the pesky flyers as part of our southern culture. While the majority of mosquito bites are brushed off and deemed as itchy harmless bumps that heal rather quickly, some can pass along a severe illness known as West Nile Virus.
West Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne illness, was first reported in 1937 in the West Nile Region of Africa. The first reported case in America was in 1999, in New York City. The virus has since migrated south to more favorable conditions and can thrive in the hot and humid Mississippi climate.
Dr. Wendell Helveston, MD, a Hattiesburg Clinic neurologist on staff at Forrest General Hospital, explains that, “If a person has experienced mosquito bites, the usual incubation period before disease would become apparent is 5-15 days. Avoid going out in late evening hours when mosquito activity is high.” The greatest risk for contraction tends to spike between August and September. The main symtoms of the virus include: headaches, joint pains, diarrhea, vomiting, and extreme fatigue. Only about 20 percent of people who contract the virus will experience symptoms. In rare cases about 3 to 5 percent of people who contract it will experience the more dangerous neuroinvasive symptoms that can cause a loss of motor function, weaken the immune system, and drastically damage an individual’s spinal cord and/or brain.
Sandra Jordan of Hattiesburg, MS, was one of those rare cases. “I woke up one morning, the 16th of August 2009, completely paralyzed with a fever,” Jordan says. She was diagnosed with West Nile Virus, and her illness led to rare neuroinvasive and debilitating side effects. Complications from the virus led to her contracting Myasthenia Gravis three months later. This neuromuscular disease causes fluctuating muscle weakness and fatigue. Jordan has made it her mission to help educate and inform Pine Belt residents on the dangers of mosquitoes and how to stay safe.
There is no known cure for West Nile, so doctors typically treat the symptoms, leaving the immune system to battle the virus. The City of Hattiesburg urges all residents to not let their guards down when it comes to protecting themselves from the West Nile Virus as the Mississippi Health Department confirmed a case in West Hattiesburg this summer. The virus is a highly preventable disease if the right steps are taken.
Ever wonder why you see the same trucks in Hattiesburg passing by late afternoons spraying mist as they go? It is because the City’s Department of Public Works (teaming with the Mississippi Health Department) is spraying for mosquitoes and applying larvicide products. Research shows that eliminating water sources that can breed mosquitoes is the most effective way to reduce the threat of the virus.
The Health Department strongly encourages self-protection to keep your family safe:
- Avoid outdoor activities during peak mosquito biting times—mornings and evenings.
- Wear light-colored, long pants and long sleeve shirts when outside.
- Use a DEET-based mosquito repellant.
- Use mosquito netting when camping outdoors.
- Make sure screens on windows and doors are in good repair with no rips or tears.
- Pick up and haul away all trash piles, broken down washing machines, junk cars, bottles and cans, and related items around houses that can hold water.
- Fill tree holes with mortar or sand.
- Drill holes in the bottom of tire swings.
- Empty or change water in pet dishes, bird baths, horse troughs, etc. at least once a week.
- Keep roof gutters clean.
- Cover rain barrels with screening.
- Fill-in low lying areas in your yard that may hold standing water.
- Repair failed septic systems.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, even if not in use.
- Keep drains, ditches and culverts free of debris and grass clippings and trash so water can drain properly.
For more information, please contact the City of Hattiesburg Department of Public Works at 601.545.4545, WNV Hotline 1-877-WST-NILE (987-6453) or visit websites www.healthyms.com and www.msdh.state.ms.us.