West Nile: Health official expects virus to appear in all 82 counties

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 13, 2002

[08/11/02]The West Nile virus may be found in all counties in Mississippi by the end of mosquito season, the state health officer is predicting.

“It’s a safe bet that West Nile virus is or is going to be found in most of the state,” Dr. Ed Thompson said Friday in a conference call with reporters, adding that the virus will “quite possibly” be found in all 82 counties.

The virus is transmitted only through the bite of an infected mosquito. Ordinary contact with an infected bird, horse or human does not result in infection, but people should wear gloves when handling any dead bird or mammal because of the possibility of other diseases, the release continued.

As of Friday, 41 confirmed or probable human cases in 14 counties had been reported by the health department. Statewide, 37 counties, not including Warren, have reported West Nile infection.

People in all Mississippi counties except Bolivar, Coahoma, Hinds, Lincoln, Pike, Rankin and Washington, all counties where the infection has been documented, are being asked to collect or report crows or blue jays that have died within 24 hours.

Dead birds of other species are not to be reported.

Vicksburg Animal Control Department Assistant Supervisor Robert Mays said Saturday evening he had bagged and stored in a deep freeze three bluejays for delivery Monday to the county office of the state Department of Health.

Warren County Sheriff’s deputies were called to at least one address Saturday where a dead bird turned out to be a wren.

Sheriff Martin Pace said later Saturday his office had collected only one bird that met the criteria a dead bluejay was found on Cherry Street last week and it was sent to the state. He also said deputies had responded to numerous other calls, but those cases did not meet the criteria.

People who find dead birds can collect them in plastic bags, Thompson said, adding that it was not necessary to do so at night or on the weekends.

Law-enforcement officers in Warren County and Mays, nonetheless, were responding Saturday to calls from people reporting dead birds.

Those calls included one at the Harding-Johnston House on Chambers Street in Vicksburg, where Sue Johnston said she found a dead bluejay while watering her front yard. She said it was the first dead bird she had found in her yard since she moved into the house in 1984.

“I was so surprised, I dropped the hose,” she said.

“If the bird tests positive I think I will get a fogger to better protect my property and the neighborhood,” she said.

The Warren County E-911 coordinated with law-enforcement agencies to develop a plan last week to handle calls from citizens reporting dead birds, coordinator Allen Maxwell said Friday. Deputy Police Chief Richard O’Bannon and Pace said their agencies were helping in the effort to collect the birds at the request of the state health department.

The virus is not known to be transmittable to pets or other animals that might come in contact with infected birds, Thompson said. Dogs, however, have been known to become infected with the virus and are in danger of being bitten by the same mosquitoes that could infect humans, Thompson said.

Cats have not been known to be infected with the virus.

“Eating dead birds is not known to be a means of transmitting the disease,” Thompson said.

The mosquitoes known to spread and transmit the disease are container-breeding, as opposed to waterway-breeding, Thompson said.

“People in urban areas are at similar risk to those in rural areas,” he said. “Any standing water should be eliminated.”

Also, municipalities that did not plan to spray for mosquitoes should begin doing so, Thompson said.

Vicksburg Street and Mosquito Department Supervisor Tommy Day said his three-person unit is spraying insecticide from two trucks six days a week, at which rate the entire city could be covered in four-and-a-half days, he said.

“We haven’t had to start using two trucks until now,” he said, adding that the department stepped up its spraying after learning of the spread of disease in Louisiana.

Day added that his department, which also includes Glen Dent and Kenneth Mayfield, has a reliable supply of insecticide for at least the rest of this season, until cooler weather sets in.

Day said some residents, citing a lack of highly visible smoke or fog, have complained that the spraying machines are not working properly. He said the more visible mixture has not been used since the 1980s.