Highlight on Mississippi: Mosquito-Borne Viruses Threaten the Delta State

Deadly and debilitating viruses are flying around Mississippi on the wings of mosquitos. Mississippi residents and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) are on watch this summer for the familiar West Nile virus (WNV) and a new, unlikely visitor: Chikungunya virus. Two cases of WNV and one case of Chikungunya virus have already been confirmed in Mississippi, and several other reports are still under investigation.

Chikungunya

Chikungunya virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), usually occurs in Africa, Southern Europe, Southeast Asia, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. However, in 2013, the virus was found in Caribbean islands. Since then, the virus has been on the move as tourists carry the disease when they travel. Mississippi’s first report of the disease was confirmed after the virus was brought back by a Mississippi resident returning from Haiti. Like WNV, Chikungunya is spread from person to person by mosquitos. The usual suspect is known as the Aedes mosquito. However, the MSDH says native Mississippi mosquitos can transmit the virus.

Symptoms

Symptoms begin 3-7 days after a bite from an infected mosquito, according to a CDC fact sheet. The most common symptoms are severe joint pain, which is often localized in the hands and feet. Symptoms may also include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. Once symptoms start, patients usually feel better within a week; however, some infected patients experience long term joint pain. Unlike WNV, Chikungunya is not usually deadly. However, because there is no anti-viral treatment, the best medicine is still prevention.

Prevention

Preventing exposure to any mosquito-borne virus means limiting exposure to mosquitos. The CDC recommends window screens, mosquito repellants, long sleeves, and the emptying of standing water whenever possible. The MSDH adds additional recommendations by suggesting that mosquito repellants contain DEET, that clothes are lightly colored, and that Mississippi residents avoid areas where mosquitos are prevalent during the day, when the mosquitos that carry the virus are most active. When it comes to the Chikungunya virus, preventing exposure to mosquitos, when visiting the Caribbean, is even more important. The MSDH places special emphasis on the obligation of those going out of the country to be cautious in areas where the virus is prevalent. Additionally, the MSDH advises that individuals who suspect they may be infected with Chikungunya remain indoors for at least 10 days, so that the virus cannot be spread by local mosquitos to other residents.

West Nile Virus

Unfortunately, Chikungunya is not the only hazard. West Nile Virus has been a longstanding threat to Mississippi residents. In 2013, the MSDH reported 45 cases of WNV and five related deaths. This summer, the MSDH has already reported two cases. The MSDH says WNV symptoms usually are mild and “may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weakness or swollen lymph nodes.” However, in some cases, WNV can lead to severe encephalitis or meningitis infections, which can cause paralysis and death. Mississippi has other mosquito-borne viruses its residents must be cautious about as well, including: La Crosse encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and Eastern Equine encephalitis. The prevention advice for Chikungunya applies to any of the other viruses carried by mosquitos.

Looking Ahead

It is hoped that the CDC and MSDH will be able to convey their message about mosquito bite prevention. With any luck, the Mississippi case of Chikungunya will be an isolated occurrence and the neighboring states won’t have to ask the question: how far will it spread?