N’siders cautioned against bugs

By ANTHONY WARREN,

From West Nile to Zika Virus, a new bug-transmitted illness seems to make its way to Mississippi every few years.

Instead of worrying about what could be, though, at least one insect expert says Northsiders have enough home-grown infectious diseases to worry about.

“People certainly pay attention to something new. But people need to pay attention to the stuff that’s here.” said Jerome Goddard, professor of medical and veterinary entomology with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “There’s stuff here that can kill you.”

He said residents shouldn’t worry only about mosquitos, but ticks, an oft-forgotten but equally dangerous bloodsucker.

Ticks can transmit several diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

“People die from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever every year,” Goddard said.

The viruses are transmitted by the same ticks that are found on family pets. However, Goddard said you don’t have to have a pet to be exposed to the insect.

“You can be out blackberry picking and get it,” he said. “You can get ticks from walking in the grass outside. You can be out in the woods.

“They don’t just bite dogs. They bite people, too.” 

Ticks and mosquitoes can transmit encephalitis, an infection that causes swelling on the brain.

Mild cases of viral encephalitis can trigger flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever and muscle and joint pain and fatigue and weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

More severe symptoms include seizures, loss of sensation or paralysis in the face or body, muscle weakness, problems with speech and hearing or loss of consciousness, Mayo states.

“The mosquito picks it up from the animals, picks it up and gives it to people,” Goddard said. “Generally, humans are not the host.” 

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is no walk in the park. Symptoms include “the sudden onset of moderate to high fever lasting up to three weeks, severe headache, fatigue, deep muscle pain, chills and sometimes a rash,” the Mississippi State Department of Health’s (MSDH) website states.

The department goes on to state that the rash “begins on the legs or arms, may include the soles of the feet or palms of the hands and may spread rapidly to the trunk or the rest of the body.”

The illness can be fatal if not treated early on. The virus can be transmitted to humans four or five hours after being bitten, with symptoms showing up three to 14 days later.

Lyme disease is a “multisystem inflammatory disease that affects the skin … and spreads to the joints, nervous system and, to a lesser extent, other organ systems in its later disseminated stages,” the American Lyme Disease Foundation states.

Around 50 people in Mississippi reported contracting the virus in 2017, with the majority of the cases occurring in May, June, July and August, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s website.

Unlike spotted fever, Lyme disease takes 36 hours to be transmitted from tick to human.

Far fewer cases of encephalitis are reported, with four cases of St. Louis encephalitis being reported in the Magnolia state between 2008 and 2017. No cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, another form of the virus, were reported for the same period in Mississippi, while two cases each were reported in Alabama and Louisiana and one case was reported in Arkansas, the CDC reports.

Between five and 50 cases of “Lyme-like illness are reported to the Mississippi Department of Health every year, although cases are almost never confirmed,” according to Mississippi State University Extension.

Fifty cases of West Nile were confirmed in the state in 2018, with 16 in Hinds County and two in Madison County, according to state health department records.  

In 2016-17, many Mississippians were worried after cases of travel-related Zika were reported in the state. No confirmed cases were reported in 2018.

Fears of contracting the virus were especially high among pregnant women, because it is known to cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, which causes a baby’s head to be smaller than normal, Medicinenet.com states.

MSDH offers several tips to stay virus free, including: checking your clothing often for ticks and wearing white or light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see; using insect repellant with DEET; walking in the center of a trail so weeds and plants do not brush against you; and checking you and your children every two or three hours for ticks if outside for extended periods of time.

Indoor pets should also be checked often.

To avoid mosquito bites, also use DEET, wear long-sleeved clothes and pants when outside, and avoid being outside at dusk.

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