Rita Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 7, 2007

‘Peach man’ Panola’s West Nile statistic

Each week the Mississippi State Department of Health sends out a news release updating the public regarding cases of  West Nile Virus, the mosquito-transmitted illness.

Last week’s report included the usual county-by-county breakdown. It included one case reported from Panola County.

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Ironically, Panola’s West Nile victim happened to walk into The Panolian office to renew his subscription on the same day the news release arrived.

Y’all know Tom McCullar, the peach man?

Tom, 60, is a tan and fit man who looks the picture of health. It’s probably from all that fresh air and exercise he gets tending to about 2,000 trees in his commercial orchard in the Mt. Olivet community of eastern Panola County.

Unfortunately for Tom, the infamous Easter Freeze got all his peaches this year.

Now, Tom had us all pretty spoiled with his abundance of locally grown peaches. He’d planted some 15 different varieties so that he harvested–and his customers usually enjoyed–peaches all summer long.

Anyone else experience peach withdrawal this summer? Didn’t you miss that drive-thru curb service at his tent on Highway 6 East?

To make matters worse, about three weeks ago Tom began to run a fever. He didn’t think much about it. Just a cold.

He ran high fever for days. His wife, Pauline, is a nurse. She took him to the doctor who hospitalized him, not immediately able to pinpoint the cause of Tom’s illness.

Tom’s neck got stiff and he ached all over.

MRIs showed no problem. Other tests did not show a reason for his fever.

A spinal tap drew fluid which was tested, and, after Tom got home from two days in the hospital, he received a call from his doctor with the results of that test.

“You have West Nile encephalitis,” the physician told him.

By the time Tom found out what he had, and became Panola County’s statistic, he had recovered from most of the symptoms, he said.

“There’s no cure for it,” he explained. “They just treat the symptoms and you get over it. But I’m immune to it now.”

The illness, he said, is supposedly harder on very young children or very old people.

In all, 44 cases have been reported in Mississippi so far this year.

Dr. Mary Currier, State Epidemiologist, cautions in this week’s MSDH news release that it’s peak mosquito season in Mississippi, and that residents should be sure to remove all sources of standing water around their homes and make sure everyone in the family wears mosquito repellent when outside.  

Repellents containing DEET are generally the most effective, the news release said. A new active ingredient, Picaridin, has also been shown to work well in products.

As for Tom McCullar, we’re just glad to have him around as a  subscriber for another year…and we hope the Summer of 2008 will bring him good health and lots of peaches.