Although there have been no cases reported in Sampson County, the potential for the West Nile virus is here and county residents are urged to take precautions to prevent exposure.
The North Carolina Public Health website describes the West Nile virus (WNV) as a mosquito-borne virus that can cause serious, life-altering disease that is potentially fatal. Individuals get WNV through the bite of an infected mosquito. In a very small number of cases, WNV also has been spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding and, during pregnancy, from mother to baby. It is not spread person-to-person by casual contact.
The website further explains that most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms at all. Some people will have mild symptoms, such as fever, nausea and rash and some will develop serious disease that can include high fever, convulsions, paralysis and, in some cases, lasting neurological effects. People who develop symptoms of severe WNV illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, should seek medical attention immediately. Severe WNV illness usually requires hospitalization.
Wanda Robinson, Sampson County health director, emphasized that Sampson County has not had any cases reported but she urged caution all the same.
“As of now we haven’t seen any cases in the county, but it is in nearby counties such as Wayne County. We have taken an active role in informing our private practitioners, doctors, hospital and other health services to be aware of the symptoms and that WNV is out there,” stated Robinson.
Robinson expressed that the best protection against WNV is to avoid mosquito bites. “Use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and long pants, keep windows and door screens in good repair, and dump out standing water around your home where mosquitoes can lay their eggs, that is the best thing individuals can do to help prevent exposure,” cited the director.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports that as of Aug. 29, five cases of West Nile virus, including two deaths, have been reported in the state. Confirmed cases have been reported in Cabarrus, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, Scotland and Wayne counties.
State Health Director Laura Gerald urges residents and visitors to take precautions to prevent mosquito-borne illness, including regular use of insect repellent and eliminating potential breeding sites around homes and businesses.
“While the Division of Public Health has only confirmed cases of West Nile in these five counties, we want to encourage everyone to protect themselves, especially at this time of year, when mosquitoes are most active,” Gerald said. “West Nile, and other mosquito-borne illness, can occur in any county in North Carolina.”
Gerald added that about 80 percent of people infected with West Nile, or four out of five, will not show any symptoms at all. Approximately 1 in 5 people who are infected with West Nile virus will develop symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Less than 1 percent will develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues).
As of Aug. 28, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that 48 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 1,590 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 66 deaths, have been reported to CDC.
Robinson shared that the Health Department did assist local municipalities with mosquito spraying but spraying is not done over the entire county.
“There are several towns in the county that receive funding to assist in the cost of mosquito control. But the spraying is limited only within the city limits. It would not be feasible nor effective to spray the entire county,” stated the director.