The Mississippi Department of Health has reported two human cases of West Nile virus last week. They are the first confirmed cases in the state this year.
The virus was found in people in Lauderdale and Hancock Counties. The state reported 52 cases, including five that resulted in death, in 2011.
The mosquito-borne virus causes flew-like symptoms which, in some cases, can become severe and eventually lead to meningitis and encephalitis, according to the DOH. Though most who contract the virus do so from mosquito bites, the virus can also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
According to the National Library of Medicine, mosquitos carry the highest amount of West Nile virus in the early fall, peaking in late August and early September. Most people who contract the virus never know they have it or even notice symptoms. The risk of severe symptoms is much higher in people who have conditions that weaken the immune system, such HIV or recent chemotherapy, elderly people and young children and pregnant women.
Common symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, headache, lack of appetite, muscle aches, nausea, rash, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and vomiting. Symptoms usually last 3-6 days.
In more severe cases, West Nile virus can lead to confusion, loss of consciousness or coma, muscle weakness, stiff neck and weakness of one arm or leg. If these symptoms occur, you should consult a doctor immediately.
In the most severe cases, the virus can result in brain damage, permanent muscle weakness and death.
The DOH suggests eliminating places where mosquitos breed and using bug repellent when outside to prevent contracting West Nile virus.