City takes measures against virus, encourages residents to help

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, responding to concerns over the spread of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, announced that the city is concentrating on cutting and cleaning open ditches, and pursuing code violations such as neglected swimming pools or other areas where standing water may provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that very few mosquitoes are infected with the virus, and less than 1 percent of people who are bitten and become infected will get severely ill. And although no cases of West Nile virus have been reported in Biloxi, Holloway said the city is taking steps to curb the spread of the virus and educate the public about the threat.

The city’s chief administrative officer, Jim Borsig, today will attend a state Department of Health workshop in Hattiesburg, where local leaders will learn more about responding to the virus, which has infected dozens of people in neighboring states, but, as of mid-week, only one in Hancock County and one in Jackson County.

The virus, which mosquitoes acquire after feeding on infected birds, is most dangerous for persons over 50. Most infections are mild, and include fever, headache and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. Death is rare.

To lessen the chance of becoming infected, Holloway said, residents should take preventive measures, and also ensure that their property does not provide areas for mosquitoes to breed.

“We live on a peninsula, so we’re going to have mosquitoes,” the mayor said. “But residents need to use common sense and do things like avoiding going outdoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active. And when you do spend time outdoors, wear long sleeves and use a generous dose of insect repellant.”

Residents should drain any standing water normally found in birdbaths or in potted plants. Overturn any buckets and other receptacles that could collect rainwater.

“The enemy is standing water,” Holloway said. “Get rid of standing water.”

The city Public Works Department is devoting more manpower to cutting and clearing ditches, and the city’s Code Enforcement inspectors are giving priority to complaints of standing water, neglected swimming pools or other areas where mosquitoes may breed.

The city web site also includes information about the West Nile virus, including links to the Center for Disease Control Prevention with answers to frequently asked questions and a map of areas known to have infected mosquito activity around the country.

As it becomes available, updated information about city efforts and precautionary steps will be posted on the city web site, and distributed online and through the media.