By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A fifth victim of West Nile virus has died in Mississippi.
The Mississippi State Department of Health said someone who had earlier been infected in Madison County has died, bringing the state’s 2012 death total to five.
The state also reported 14 new cases Monday, pushing the year’s total to 200. That’s the largest number of cases in the state ever confirmed by laboratories. In 2011, Mississippi had 52 cases and five deaths.
There have been 147 deaths reported nationwide as of Sept. 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in one of the worst-ever years for West Nile in the United States. Mississippi is ranked third per capita among the states for infections this year, behind only South Dakota and North Dakota, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. It’s No. 7 for deaths per capita.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state epidemiologist, said all five of the state’s victims have been older than 50. While many people may not even notice they are infected with West Nile, life-threatening encephalitis and meningitis can develop in the most severe cases, especially in older people.
Dobbs said a warm winter, followed by wet weather, has created good breeding conditions for mosquitoes that transmit the virus to humans. And summer rains have been separated by dry spells, allowing puddles to boil down to rich organic soup perfect for birthing the parasitic insects.
“Certainly, the weather has been a big driving factor,” Dobbs said.
That’s especially true in central and southern parts of the state, where deaths have been concentrated. Of the state’s five deaths, by county, two have been in Rankin, one in Madison, one in Lincoln and one in Smith.
The metropolitan Jackson counties of Hinds, Madison and Rankin have reported 43 percent of cases statewide, though they only have 16 percent of the state’s population.
Dobbs says that some smaller southern Mississippi counties, such as Marion and Lincoln, have seen high numbers of infections per capita.
The good news is that the number of cases is beginning to taper off in Mississippi, as is typical in October. The state reported 14 new cases Monday. That’s down from 17, 29 and 48 respectively in the three previous weeks.
Two new cases were reported in Hancock county while one new case apiece were reported in Calhoun, Clay, Forrest, Grenada, Harrison, Jones, Leake, Madison, Panola, Rankin, Wayne and Yazoo counties.
Dobbs said a hard freeze would cut the number of cases, but cautioned that mosquitoes can survive cold weather and that new West Nile cases are reported year-round in Mississippi.
The Health Department is working with cities and counties to boost mosquito control efforts by providing map specific information for spraying efforts.
The agency has developed and printed educational materials that have been distributed through civic groups, churches and volunteer organizations. That includes public service messages for high school football games and other athletic events.