West Nile virus found in people, but SC occurrences not unexpected, state officials say

Mosquitoes can carry viruses that can make people sick
Mosquitoes can carry viruses that can make people sick

South Carolina health officials say they have documented the first cases of West Nile Virus in humans this summer and have found the disease in mosquitoes in at least four counties, including Sumter.

State officials had no details Monday on the human cases, but the occurrence would not be the first time a person has become infected with West Nile in South Carolina. The virus has been detected in people as far back as 2002 in South Carolina, according to state Department of Health and Environmental Control statistics

Mosquitoes at Shaw Air Force base near Sumter have been identified as carrying West Nile, along with those at a joint military base in Charleston, according DHEC. West Nile also has been found in mosquitoes in York and Oconee counties this year, the agency says.

West Nile Virus can be dangerous to people infected, but chances of a fatality are rare, according to DHEC

In most cases, humans infected with the virus show no symptoms or signs of illness. Those who do can get ill within two weeks after being bitten by a mosquito. People experiencing illness can run fevers, have headaches, joint and muscle pain and become nauseated.

West Nile Virus is spread from birds to mosquitoes, which then spread the disease to people and some animals. It originated outside of the United States.

“The risk of serious illness is low,’’ state epidemiologist Linda Bell said in a DHEC blog. “Less than one percent of people infected develop a potentially fatal swelling of the brain, known as encephalitis.”

To limit mosquito bites, DHEC recommends turning over containers of standing water where the bugs lay eggs, wearing insect repellant when outdoors and making sure doors and windows on people’s homes have tight-fitting screens.

West Nile was found in people in York and Laurens counties last year, and in Greenville, Dorchester, Charleston and Horry counties in 2014, agency statistics show. One of the biggest years for West Nile outbreaks in humans was 2012. That year, DHEC documented 41 human cases, according to agency statistics.

Mosquitoes have been in the news this year because of another disease, Zika virus. That virus has been found in humans in South Carolina who became infected elsewhere. The virus has not been found in mosquitos in South Carolina.

A team of researchers from Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health found existing drugs that can stop Zika from replicating in the body and from damaging fetal brains. Tests are still needed to dete