New virus not as alarming as WNV
by Paisley Boston
Jun 25, 2014 | 2137 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new mosquito borne virus may have some in a panic but according to state Deputy Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, Mississippians should be more alarmed about West Nile.

"We are about to enter our most active months for the West Nile Virus infection. It is really important for Mississippi residents is to be taking the necessary precautions against mosquito bites now," continued Byers.

Byers said a case of the newly discovered mosquito borne illness, chikungunya, has been found in Mississippi but the county in which the infection was found has not been released.

"The individual traveled to Haiti and officials believe this is where the infection was contracted. We are not allowed to identify the county in which the individuals resides but it was a Mississippian," he added.

The individual who contracted the virus is a medical practitioner who was working in Haiti.

"We do have some other individuals or cases that we have been studying who may be infected. We do not have anyone who has been infected, just from being in Mississippi," said Byers.

The virus is already common in central and southern Africa and southern Asia.

It has recently spread to 17 countries in the Caribbean, including Haiti and Cuba, where the number of chikungunya cases now tops 189,000, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

As of last week, 80 cases of chikungunya have been reported in 13 U.S. states.

There is no specific treatment for the virus, only supportive care like fluids and over-the-counter painkillers. In severe cases, steroids can help relieve joint pain and inflammation. 

Byers said although one case of chikungunya has been discovered in Mississippi, the real threat to Mississipians is West Nile.

"The way that this infection works is that a mosquito has to become infected by biting an infected person. Once that mosquito becomes infected, they could potentially bite someone who is not infected and then transmit the infection to them, but the West Nile Virus is transmitted differently. We know for sure that there are mosquitos in Mississippi that carry the West Nile Virus," said Byers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the West Nile Virus is most commonly transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

Individuals can reduce their risk of being infected with WNV by using insect repellent and wearing protective clothing to prevent mosquito bites.

There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent WNV infection.

Fortunately, most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms.

Less than one percent of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurologic illness.

"I do not believe chikungunya is as much of an issue in Mississippi as West Nile. We have not had any local transmissions of the disease. The only confirmed case of chikungunya is travel related," said Byers.

"In the United States, there is a mosquito that can transmit this infection and that mosquito is present in Mississippi but we are unaware of there being any infected mosquitos, carrying chikungunya in Mississippi. This mosquito is present in a lot of states. It is called Aedes albopictus and it is not the same mosquito that carries the West Nile Virus," he added.

Byers also said individuals need to take necessary precautions to avoid coming in contact with any mosquitos.

"People need to be looking around their homes for mosquito breeding areas. The mosquito that can transmit West Nile breeds in very small areas of standing water. This could be in a backed up gutter, flower pots old tires and many other places," he added.

"The best type of mosquito repellent to buy is one that contains DEET. The mosquito that transmits West Nile is the one that is active during the coolers times of the day. This is usually during evening hours, over night and in the early morning hours," continued Byers.

He also said if individuals are traveling to places where they know that local transmission of the West Nile or chikungunya virus is ongoing, they should take protect themselves.

Individuals should also avoid mosquito exposure and bites.

"Be sure to cover up exposed areas by wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants.

I also advise individuals to use appropriate mosquito repellant, remain indoors in an air conditioned areas because mosquitos are less likely to come in good, secure, cool structures," said Byers.