Encephalitis cases hitting all over area

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Cases of encephalitis are popping up all over Mississippi and Louisiana, but chances are that mosquito buzzing in your ear doesn’t carry a fatal disease.

The Mississippi Department of Health reported three possible cases of encephalitis Tuesday.

The situation is Louisiana is far more serious, with 16 cases of encephalitis as of Wednesday.

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So far, however, mosquito-borne encephalitis has not made it to the Miss-Lou.

The main reporting device for West Nile virus on both sides of the Mississippi River is blood from dead crows and blue jays. West Nile virus causes encephalitis.

Other animals are susceptible to the disease, but the high mortality rate of blue jays and crows makes them more reliable indicators.

Until Monday, when Fatherland Acres resident Joe Cavallas turned in a dead blue jay at the local Department of Health office, only two birds from Adams County had been submitted for testing.

&uot;It hasn’t been an extensive amount,&uot; said Dr. Sally Slavinski, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Mississippi Department of Health.

Statewide, 269 dead birds have been collected.

Slavinski said more birds from Adams County are necessary to give researchers a better idea of the degree to which West Nile has penetrated the state.

The various forms of encephalitis have hit Louisiana much harder, with 97 birds in 13 parishes testing positive for West Nile this year.

But according to the Louisiana DHH, most of the cases of encephalitis in humans have been in the Florida parishes, with six from St. Tammany Parish alone.

Randall Ducote, of the Louisiana Office of Public Health in Alexandria, said Concordia Parish has yielded only one dead blue jay, but nine dead birds belonging to different species have been reported.

&uot;We only turn in birds of prey,&uot; Ducote said, &uot;but we report all dead birds.&uot;

Test results are not yet available from any of the four local dead birds.

In addition to collecting dead birds, Mississippi takes blood samples from live birds and contacts a number of hospitals across the state for reports of suspected cases of encephalitis.

The Louisiana DHH collects dead birds, as well, but the 18 parishes with mosquito control programs use other methods, such as mosquito pools and &uot;chicken sentinels&uot; &045;&045; groups of fowl tested regularly for West Nile.

If you happen to find a dead crow or blue jay, Slavinski said, seal it in a freezer bag and place it in the refrigerator, freezer or a cooler packed with ice until you can take it to the local Health Department Office.

A human cannot catch West Nile from a bird, but basic sanitation calls for caution while handling any dead animals.

The local office of the Mississippi Department of Health can be reached at 445-4601.

The Public Health Office in Ferriday can be reached at (318) 757-8632.