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West Nile virus found in downtown Columbia bird

West Nile-infected bird found in downtown Columbia

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin discusses the city's concerns and actions after a West Nile-infected bird was found dead at Sumter and Hampton streets downtown on July 17.
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Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin discusses the city's concerns and actions after a West Nile-infected bird was found dead at Sumter and Hampton streets downtown on July 17.

State and local officials took steps this week to kill mosquitoes after finding evidence of the West Nile virus in downtown Columbia.

A bird carrying the West Nile virus, which can spread to people and make them sick, was found dead in a busy part of the city Monday night, city, county and state officials said Tuesday.

The disease has not been found in a person but is of concern. Birds pass the virus to mosquitoes, which then can infect people. Statewide, there has been one transmission to a human this year, in Beaufort County, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

DHEC learned about a bird testing positive Monday, officials said. The bird was found at the corner of Sumter and Hampton streets in downtown Columbia, near many homes, businesses and nightspots, city officials said.

“This is a significant issue of public health,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said Tuesday, as he urged residents to take precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites and to eliminate areas of standing water where mosquitoes might breed. While people shouldn’t panic, he said, they should be vigilant.

Mosquito traps are being set in the area to capture insects and test them for West Nile, city officials said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, areas within a two-mile radius of where the bird was found will be sprayed for mosquitoes, officials said. The spraying will happen overnight when few people should be out and about, but Benjamin encouraged people to stay indoors when they know spraying will be happening.

The Shandon and Five Points area was sprayed for mosquitoes overnight between about 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., city officials said; they believe that is the area the bird might have originated from.

The majority of people bitten by West Nile-infected mosquitoes have no symptoms at all; about 20 percent come down with flu-like symptoms. Fewer than 1 percent of people infected get West Nile encephalitis, which leads to life-threatening inflammation of the spinal cord or brain.

“There have been no confirmed transmissions of West Nile virus to humans here in Richland County. There has been one human transmission of West Nile virus in South Carolina this year, in Beaufort County,” said Nick Davidson, DHEC’s director of community health services. “We will continue to monitor going forward.”

West Nile virus is not routinely found in large numbers of people, but it isn’t unheard of in South Carolina.

Last year, DHEC reports documenting eight cases of West Nile virus in people, including three in Richland County. The state found six mosquito pools where insects tested positive for the virus in Richland, DHEC records show. The other human cases were in Dorchester and Horry counties last year. One of the biggest years for West Nile outbreaks in humans was 2012. That year, DHEC documented 41 human cases.

Within the past decade, a Shandon man, John Ureda, contracted West Nile virus from a mosquito in his yard and spent some 17 weeks in hospitals. He was lucky to survive and was left in a wheelchair. Three years later, a West Nile-carrying bird was found dead in Ureda’s yard.

The disease can cause people to become ill, but sometimes people do not know they have been infected, DHEC officials said. Many recover, but about 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever. They also can have other symptoms, including headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rashes, the agency said in a news release. Those infected can suffer fatigue for weeks or months.

“Identifying birds carrying West Nile virus in our state is not uncommon,” said Chris Evans, DHEC’s staff entomologist. “... Positive identifications serve as an important reminder to preventing mosquito bites. It’s the most important step you can take to prevent the spread of illness from mosquitoes to people.”

DHEC officials urged people to wear insect repellent and to wear clothing that can reduce skin exposure. The agency advised people to keep window screens closed and eliminate water that collects in containers in their yards.

WHAT TO DO

The most effective way to avoid West Nile virus disease is to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants from dusk through dawn when many mosquitoes are most active.
  • Install or repair screens on windows and doors. If you have it, use your air conditioning.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home. Empty standing water from containers such as flowerpots, gutters, buckets, pool covers, pet water dishes, discarded tires, and birdbaths.

SOURCE: DHEC

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