The Department of Health added Hinds and Leflore to the list of counties reporting human cases of West Nile Virus on Thursday, bringing the state total to five for 2017.

Previously, the Department of Health had reported two human cases in Forrest County and one in Rankin County.

The Department of Health also has confirmed that mosquitoes tested positive for the disease in eight counties, six of which have not had a confirmed human case: Clay, Hinds, Forrest, Lincoln, Lowndes, Madison, Rankin and Washington. Of the 73 mosquitoes that have tested positive in the state, 28 were in Forrest County and 16 were in Washington County.

In a release earlier this month, the Department of Health said that an increase in cases means that Mississippians are entering “peak season” for the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes that are more prevalent in the warmer summer months.

“While WNV (West Nile Virus) can occur any time of the year, we are now in peak season when most cases occur. Additionally we continue to identify mosquitoes from many areas in the state that have tested positive for West Nile, so now is the time to really take precautions to avoid mosquito bites when going outdoors,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

In previous years, West Nile Virus has been reported from all parts of the state, and the Department of Health stressed that all Mississippians are potentially at risk — not just those who live in the areas where cases are reported.

In 2016, Mississippi had 43 West Nile Virus cases and two deaths. The Department of Health reports only laboratory-confirmed cases to the public.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus infection are often mild and may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weakness or swollen lymph nodes. In a small number of cases, infection can result in encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to paralysis, coma and possibly death.

The Department of Health suggests the following precautions to protect from mosquito-borne illnesses: using a recommended mosquito repellent containing DEET while outside, removing all standing water from property, wearing loose, light-colored clothing that covers arms and legs and avoiding areas where mosquitoes are common.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.