Physician offers W. Nile tips as 4th person dies

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2002

[09/13/02]]Most people infected with West Nile virus never get sick or feel any symptoms, but Dr. Clyde F. Sartor says people should still take precautions against mosquitoes.

A Washington County resident became the fourth person in Mississippi to die from the West Nile virus, the state department of health said Thursday. Health officials also reported 14 new cases of the mosquito-borne disease have been identified since last week, raising the total number in the state to 133.

Speaking to about 20 people at River Region Medical Center Thursday, Sartor, an entomologist and head of the science department at Hinds Community College in Vicksburg, said Mississippians need to avoid mosquitoes and reduce their numbers around homes.

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“Don’t just rely on that fogging truck to come by your house at night to kill mosquitoes,” Sartor said.

Martin Ahlvin, formerly of Warren County, has spent the last week in a Jackson hospital after being infected with the virus. He is due to be released today, but is continuing to take medication and receiving physical therapy.

During a phone interview, Ahlvin, 47, was too weak to talk, but his wife, Suzanne Ahlvin, said they are not sure where he was when bitten by a mosquito, the only way to get the virus other than through receiving contaminated blood or transplanted organs.

The Ahlvins were in the process of moving from Warren County to Kosciusko when they believe he was bitten.

“He was outside a lot during the move,” Suzanne Ahlvin said.

Martin Ahlvin first began showing symptoms on Aug. 29, and doctors at the time believed he had a general infection, but days later, his chills and fevers became worse and he broke out in a rash.

“When he would get the chills you’d have to pile literally a foot of covers on him and if you took them off he’d say he was freezing,” Suzanne Ahlvin said.

When Martin Ahlvin’s temperature spiked to 104 degrees on Sept. 3, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital where a spinal tap confirmed West Nile. The next day he was taken to Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson where Suzanne Ahlvin said he was incoherent from the fever and pains associated with the virus.

“When he first got here he couldn’t carry on a conversation, and for a while he didn’t even know who I was,” she said.

Most of the reported human cases have exhibited West Nile encephalitis and/or meningitis, the more severe form of the virus. The milder West Nile fever has afflicted only a few of the Mississippi cases.

Symptoms of the illness can include headaches, muscle aches, nausea, paralysis or in severe cases, coma. Martin Ahlvin’s case did not reach the stage of encephalitis, but left him unable to get out of bed or move around without pain.

“The way he’s described it to me is he hurts all the way down to his bones,” Suzanne Ahlvin said.

She credited his recovery to a research project involving interferon, a substance naturally produced by the human body to fight off infections. Martin Ahlvin has been given doses of man-made interferon daily along with antibiotics and pain killers.

West Nile virus infection has been found in either birds, horses, humans or mosquitoes in 76 counties including Warren County. Most human cases have been in Hinds County where 41 people have been infected.

The 14 new cases were reported in Harrison, Tallahatchie, Washington, Jackson, Lamar, Forrest, Copiah, Rankin, Lincoln, Pike, Hinds and Marion counties. About 15 to 20 percent of the people infected show signs of the illness, and about 1 percent of those develop encephalitis.

Sartor said infants and people older than 50 are most likely to develop the illness. Steps to avoid mosquitoes he suggested include repellents, insecticides, protective clothing and cleaning up properties.

“Any standing body of water after four days can create another generation of mosquitoes,” Sartor said.

He said people should also be cautious about leaving the doors to their homes or cars open where mosquitoes can get in and should inspect screens before leaving windows open.