From The Hattiesburg American
JACKSON – State and local health officials are warning Pine Belt residents to protect themselves against mosquitoes, after two confirmed human cases of West Nile virus in Mississippi and the identification of West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes in Forrest County.
The reported cases are in Lauderdale and Hancock counties.
In 2011, Mississippi had 52 West Nile virus cases and five deaths.
“In Forrest County, we had the second-highest number of cases in all the counties in the state, after Pearl River,” said Thomas Dobbs, health officer for the Mississippi Department of Health’s District 8 office. “Forrest County had 9.34 cases per 100,000 (people) in 2011.”
Dobbs said West Nile virus has been identified in six samples of mosquitoes in Forrest County this year.
“The mosquito population has been robust in Forrest County specifically,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of mosquitoes in our traps in higher numbers than expected for this time of year.”
The state Department of Health has also found West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes in Pike and Lincoln counties.
It also performs testing in Jones, Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, Scott, Leflore and Yazoo counties.
Dobbs said the testing is done in areas where there has traditionally been a higher incidence of West Nile virus.
Dobbs said he is concerned about the prospect of West Nile virus cases in Forrest County this year.
“We’ve actually seen (mosquito) activity a little earlier than expected and that makes us a little worried that you might have a more active West Nile virus season and more human cases,” he said.
Paul Byers, acting state epidemiologist for the state Health Department, said this is the time of year when officials begin seeing mosquitoes with West Nile virus.
“Certainly the months of July, August and September are the most active times for West Nile virus,” he said. “It’s something that people need to take precautions for.”
Byers said the presence of West Nile virus-positive mosquitoes should serve as a warning to everyone.
“It’s important for that area and those counties, and it’s important for the entire state,” he said. “It’s important for everybody to take precautions whether or not we’re testing in your county or whether or not we’ve found positives in your county.”
Byers advises people to try to avoid being outside during the early-morning and evening hours when mosquitoes are most active.
He also recommends wearing mosquito repellent and protective clothing when outside.
Byers also says it’s important to get rid of the places where mosquitoes breed.
“Look around your house. Mosquitoes can breed in a little bit of water,” he said.
He suggests emptying flower pots, bird baths, pails or anywhere else there is standing water.
In Forrest County, officials have been spraying for mosquitoes since March.
“We spray four nights a week, five hours a night,” county road manager Steve Keith said.
In Hattiesburg, spraying is also under way, morning and evening, when the mosquitoes are most active, said Andy Ferguson, general manager of public works.
“We spray every street, and we work through the city every week,” he said. “If there’s an area that’s got any type of West Nile indication, we’ll spray that more often.”
In Lamar County, spraying has been going on since March, 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, according to director of mosquito control, Danny Young.