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Health officials watch for mosquito-borne threats
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Confirmed cases of encephalitis and the potential for the West Nile Virus in Mississippi have health officials at a state of heightened awareness to the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses.
Dr. Lanny Pace, director of the State Diagnostic Lab in Jackson, recently informed College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members at Mississippi State University that state health officials are monitoring closely for West Nile virus as well as LaCrosse, St. Louis and Eastern equine encephalitis. West Nile virus is the only one of those mosquito-borne illnesses that has never been diagnosed in Mississippi.
"Recent reports of West Nile virus in northern Florida and southern Louisiana have heightened our awareness of the threat to Mississippi," Pace said. "It's just a matter of time before West Nile virus hits Mississippi."
Dr. Jim Watson, state veterinarian, said mosquitoes transmit Eastern equine encephalitis from wild birds to horses and humans. Horse cases are almost always fatal. Symptoms include unsteadiness, erratic behavior and a notable loss of coordination. Seizures cause death usually within 48 to 72 hours of the first symptoms. Owners should report horses with suspicious symptoms to veterinarians as soon as possible. Human cases of EEE are rare but often more serious than the other types of encephalitis.
"Eastern equine encephalitis is not new to Mississippi. A vaccine is available, but a high number of horses go unvaccinated each year," Watson said.
Dr. Brigid Elchos, the state public health veterinarian, said the Centers for Disease Control supplied most states with additional funds to increase their surveillance for mosquito-borne viruses.
"We are testing blood from people if their physicians suspect encephalitis," Elchos said. "We also are testing dead birds, especially crows and blue jays, for West Nile virus. Last year, we tested 15 birds, and we've already tested 59 this year due to an increased awareness of the potential problems."
Elchos said West Nile virus typically is first detected in bird populations. Anyone who finds a dead bird, especially a blue jay or crow, should carefully bag it and call the environmentalist at the local health department.
"People should be cautious to avoid mosquito bites all year round, but especially from April through October and at dawn and dusk. Wear mosquito repellants according to label directions and wear long sleeves and long pants whenever out in mosquito-prone areas and times," Elchos said.
"Efforts to eliminate mosquito habitats are very important in controlling these viruses," she said. "Keep grass mowed, and drain standing water around the home where mosquitoes might breed. Keep water for animals as fresh as possible."
For more information, contact Dr. Lanny Pace, (601) 354-6089 or Dr. Jim Watson, (888) 646-8731.