11 cases, one fatal, of human West Nile virus confirmed this year in South Carolina

Health officials have confirmed 11 cases of West Nile virus in humans so far this year in South Carolina, the state’s health agency reported this week.

The infections were confirmed in Richland, Anderson, Greenville, Union, York, Beaufort and Horry counties. One person in Anderson County died last month from the illness that was first reported in the North America in 1999.

West Nile is transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes. You cannot get it from contact with an infected person.

Richland County has seen a spike in 2017 in the number of mosquitoes infected with the virus so far this season, which runs until the end of November. So far this year, 22 mosquito pools in the county have tested positive. That compares to three virus-positive pools last year and none the year before.

Additionally, more birds have tested positive in Richland County than in the recent past; Four tested positive in 2017, none in 2016, and one in adjacent Lexington County in 2015.

So who’s at risk?

The risk of serious illness from the West Nile virus is low for normally healthy people. In fact, 8 our of 10 people infected won’t show any symptoms, state health officials say. If you are going to get sick, symptoms develop two to 14 days after exposure and can include fever, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, rash, diarrhea and sometimes nausea and vomiting.

One in 150 people exposed will develop serious complications such as swelling of the brain or swelling of the membrane around the brain or spine. Symptoms at that stage include high fever, headache, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, loss of vision, numbness, paralysis or coma.

The very young, very old and people who have weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk for developing serious complications.

Residents can protect themselves and their families by reducing the risk of being bitten by infected mosquitoes and by helping eliminate mosquito breeding places.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recommends individuals take the following steps:

  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR 3535 according to label instructions. Repellents help keep mosquitoes from biting.
  • Make sure that your doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Eliminate all sources of standing water on your property, including flowerpots, clogged gutters, buckets, neglected swimming pools, plastic sheeting or tarps used to cover yard items, pool covers, wheel barrows, children’s toys, birdbaths, old tires, pet bowls and any other water-holding containers.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to cover your skin and reduce the risk of bites.