COPY-Jones County resident 5th Mississippian this year to contract West Nile

A Jones County resident has become the fifth person in Mississippi this year to contract the West Nile virus, state health officials said Friday.

Previous West Nile cases were reported in Walthall, Lawrence, Scott and Madison counties. On June 7, health officials reported a Madison County resident had died from the infection, a mosquito-borne virus.

All of the cases this year have been instances of West Nile encephalitis or meningitis - the most severe forms of the disease, which affect the nervous system and can lead to paralysis, coma or death.

In 2006, a record 14 Mississippians died of complications from infection of the West Nile virus.

West Nile virus is most prevalent in mid-summer to late summer but can occur throughout the year.

Joseph Stodghill, who said his 48-year-old mother was the first fatality claimed by the virus this year, told The Clarion-Ledger earlier this month that she had been bitten by numerous mosquitoes in August 2006. Patti Stodghill of Ridgeland suffered with bouts of flulike illnesses for months before slipping into a coma and dying June 4.

Symptoms of the infection often are mild and flulike and may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting or a rash, health officials say.

The Health Department encourages residents to take precautions such as removing sources of standing water and avoiding mosquito-prone areas.

Earlier this month, federal health officials said the number of U.S. cases of encephalitis and meningitis caused by the West Nile virus rose last year to the highest level since 2003.

The death toll nationwide was 177 in 2006, up from 119 in 2005, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control said in a report.

---from The Clarion Ledger