The cost of being prepared: Pine Belt leader’s fight against mosquitoes

The cost of being prepared: Pine Belt leader’s fight against mosquitoes

PINE BELT (WDAM) - Hattiesburg native, Mitchell Williams, knows a picture can tell so many stories.

But his pictures of past mission trips to South and Central America capture just a moment of something much bigger.

As the Southeast Region Director of Mississippi's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Williams said it is all about ministry.

"We want to make sure that the Lord is preached everywhere, not just in the church house," Williams said.

For the last two years, the group has gone to Guatemala, but this year, there will be no snapshots to look back on.

The group's trip to the Dominican Republic is canceled because of the unknowns of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the carrier of Zika.

"Would it affect that coach when he came back to see his wife, or if it would affect that young girl who is 18, 19 years of age, if she got bitten by a mosquito...we didn't know," Williams said.

State Epidemiologist Thomas Dobbs laid out the facts in Mississippi.

"We had three travelers return with Zika virus," Dobbs said.

He said all the cases were on mission trips to Haiti, a high-risk zone, along with the rest the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Dobbs said it is crucial people know where the real risk of Zika lies.

He said Mississippians should be concerned about Zika if they travel.

Dobbs said the virus can have mild symptoms like rash and fever.

"And people might be infected with Zika virus and never know it," Dobbs said.

Zika's a scarier threat and a different threat, according to Dobbs.

Here's why: There's no vaccine or treatment for the virus. He said it is because of the impacts on babies.

If you are pregnant or thinking of conceiving, do not go to affected areas. He said  to keep in mind that the virus can be transmitted sexually.

Dobbs cautioned that if you go to an affected country and you have no symptoms, it is recommended to not have unprotected sex for eight weeks.

If a man has symptoms, he should wait six months before having unprotected sex or trying to conceive.

"If a man travels to a Zika-affected country and comes back and has a pregnant partner, (he) should not have unprotected sex for the entire duration of the pregnancy," Dobbs said.

Dobbs said currently there is no transmission of Zika from mosquitoes in Mississippi, but there is another virus.

"And we will have West Nile cases," Dobbs said.

Protection begins with local leadership and money.

According to county officials, eight counties in the Pine Belt use chemical spraying every week as the first line of defense.

In some cases, towns and cities only have $3,000 to about $6,000 a year to spray a few times a week.

The largest budgets go to Lamar and Forrest counties, both at $120,000 a year.

"I spray four nights a week," Forrest County sprayer Jim Lawless said.

Lawless starts his spraying shift at 6:30 p.m. in District 3 of Forrest County. He said he only drives 15 miles per hour to make sure the chemical reaches resident's yards. He does not finish until midnight.

"We try to help everyone that has a mosquito problem. This year it has been extremely hard because of all of the rain," Lawless said.

Lawless said that has made this year the worst for standing water, which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes to quickly multiply.

Lawless said workers take care of that by throwing in tablets of poison into water holes to kill the larvae.

With a population of more 75,000 to protect, Lawless said the county is lucky to have these resources.

"We are very fortunate in Forrest County that we have a good budget that we can work on these kinds of problems," Lawless said.

In Jasper County it is a different story, where there is a population of 17,000 and no spraying in the county. It is a problem recognized by the board of supervisors.

"We don't have enough money to allot that kind of money towards spraying," Jasper County Board of Supervisors President Doug Rogers said.

As president, Rogers can tell someone all about the county's budget, and stretching a dollar, especially in his district, beat 3.

"We allot about $5,000 to $8,000 a year on chemicals and when I say chemicals, chemicals are road side weed killers, that mosquito spray is in that budget," Rogers said.

With little money, that means no man power, and costly chemicals . So, Rogers said he sprays where he can afford to in his district using a fogger passed on by Bay Springs, which has its own funding for spraying.

Although thankful for it, Rogers said it is not enough and that leaves much of the county unattended.

"We all want to do more, but with the budgets we got now and the cost of everything we have to make cuts, ya know, we definitely want to keep taxes within reason, sometimes this is one of the things that we just have to cut a little short," Rogers said.

There are things you can do at home to protect yourself from mosquitoes.

Rogers and Lawless suggested getting rid of anything that can hold water around your home, like old tires, and try to drain low lying areas around your house.

Rogers said you can also buy tablets to kill larvae and put them in places that retain water outside.

Dobbs said stay inside in air conditioning when you can, use mosquito repellent, wear long clothing and make sure you have screens on your doors and windows.

On a larger scale, this month, Dobbs said the Mississippi State Department of Health is working with Mississippi State University and The University of Southern Mississippi to conduct a county-by-county statewide assessment of mosquitoes populations to ensure that there are not Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes in Mississippi.

Ten counties were contacted, but not all responded. If you want to learn more about how your county, town or city protects you against mosquitoes call your local supervisor or councilman.

For more information on Zika click here and here.