NC's first confirmed West Nile death of 2018 is in Cumberland County

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina's first death and first confirmed case of West Nile virus in 2018 happened in Cumberland County, where an elderly person contracted the illness, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

To protect the patient's identity, the department is not releasing additional details.

"We want to express our sincerest condolences to the family of this member of our community. We must use this unfortunate event as a reminder that West Nile virus is still here," said Duane Holder, Interim Health Director. "We all need to take personal precautions to protect ourselves and loved ones from mosquito bites and thus reduce our risk of infection."

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who become infected with West Nile virus experience no symptoms or a mild, flu-like illness.

"These infections are rare, but this is a tragic reminder that they can be fatal," said State Public Health Veterinarian Carl Williams. "We see most cases of West Nile virus from July through November, but you can still enjoy the outdoors by reducing mosquito populations around your home and through proper use of repellents."

Roughly 20 percent of people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.

In about 1 percent of infections, West Nile virus can cause a severe illness affecting the central nervous system, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).

West Nile virus is one of several mosquito-borne viruses that can be acquired in North Carolina.

"There are anywhere from two to eight cases of West Nile virus that are reported in North Carolina," Williams said. "It's one of our 75-odd reportable conditions to the state."

Other mosquito-borne viruses transmitted in the state that cause human illness include LaCrosse and Eastern equine encephalitis viruses. From 2012-2017, there were 25 reported cases of West Nile virus in the state and seven reported deaths.

"Anybody can be infected by West Nile Virus," Williams said. "There are subsets, including the young, elderly and immune-compromised that are at greater risk of having a severe infection due to the virus."

He said West Nile mostly shows up in the eastern two-thirds of the state.

"If you live in Ashe County, your risk of West Nile is pretty low compared to Cumberland or Robeson or another county in the eastern part of the state," Williams said.

There are no West Nile vaccines licensed for use in humans, and no medications to cure West Nile disease once a person is infected by a mosquito.

WATCH: Reduce your risk of contracting West Nile

DHHS recommends the following precautions:

  • Use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent and apply according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside, and if possible, use air conditioning.
  • Reduce mosquito breeding by emptying standing water from flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires and birdbaths at least once a week