Health officials urge West Nile prevention

  • Posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 11:19 a.m.

SALISBURY — While Rowan County has had no reported cases of West Nile Virus this year, local health officials are urging people to help keep it away.

“West Nile Virus can be a serious illness,” said Rowan County Health Director Barbara Ellis. “We want everyone to be aware of how to avoid it and take preventive measures to protect themselves.”

The mosquito-borne illness is rarely fatal, but a 77-year-old Kannapolis woman died recently of complications from it, according to the N.C. Department of Health And Human Services.

It was the third confirmed death in North Carolina this year related to West Nile Virus.

Two additional cases had been reported by Aug. 29, for a total of five in the state. In addition to the Cabarrus County case, the illness has been reported in Forsyth, Mecklenburg, Scotland and Wayne counties.

The easiest way to avoid West Nile Virus is to prevent mosquito bites, the Rowan County Health Department says. The illness is not spread through casual contact between people.

Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds. They can then spread the virus to humans and other animals when they bite.

“We just want to reiterate the importance of measures people can take to try to guard against getting bit by mosquitoes,” Ellis said.

That includes getting rid of any standing water, including rain that’s collected in gutters and yard items. Mosquitoes can breed quickly in shallow puddles if they go undisturbed.

The water in birdbaths and pet bowls should be changed regularly, Ellis said, and pool water should be treated properly.

“If you don’t have to go outside or stay outside for any length of time at dusk, that would be good,” she said. “If you do have to be outside for any length of time, wear insect repellent ... and wear long sleeves.”

Betty Braxton, public information officer with Cabarrus Health Alliance, said most people who get sick from West Nile Virus will experience flu-like symptoms.

But certain groups are at higher risk of more severe symptoms, she said, and those people should take special care to avoid mosquito bites. That includes the Kannapolis woman who died after contracting the virus.

“She had compromised health because of other serious health conditions,” Braxton said. “We know that persons who are over 50 and have other health issues are at more risk of serious illness from West Nile Virus.”

People who spend a great time outdoors are also at higher risk of getting sick from the virus.

According to the county Health Department, West Nile Virus affects a person’s nervous system and its symptoms vary by person.

Mild symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash.

Less than 1 percent of people suffer severe symptoms, which can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, muscle weakness, vision loss and numbness.

About 80 percent who are infected with West Nile Virus will not show any symptoms at all, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of Wednesday, the CDC reported that 48 states had 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.

People who think they have West Nile Virus — especially women who are pregnant or nursing — should contact a doctor, the county Health Department says. Milder illness often improves on its own, but severe illness from the virus usually requires hospitalization.

For more information, contact your medical provider or the Rowan County Division of Environmental Health at 704-216-8525. Also visit the Rowan County Health Department’s website at

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