DHEC urges awareness during largest ever West Nile outbreak

COUNTY — With this year’s West Nile Virus outbreak the largest ever in the United States, new cases are on the rise by the day across the country, our state and even in Pickens County.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), there were two confirmed cases of the virus in Pickens County as of Sept. 4, with one case involving a person and another an infected bird.

Monday, an Aiken County man became the first South Carolinian to die of the virus in 2012.

Transmitted to humans mostly via mosquito bites, West Nile Virus (WNV) is a potentially serious illness that seems to flare up in North America during the summer and fall.

While WNV can also be transmitted by other outdoor “pests” like ticks, mites, and ked flies, or through blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding and even during pregnancy from mother to baby, these methods of transmission represent an extremely small number of cases.
West Nile virus was first isolated in 1937 in a resident of what was then called West Nile province in the country of Uganda in Africa. First surfacing in the U.S. in New York City in September 1999, there were no official cases of the disease in South Carolina until 2002.

Symptoms of WNV develop three to 14 days after the infected person is exposed. Most people do not get sick, but a few experience severe symptoms. People over the age of 50 appear to be at greater risk of becoming sick.

WNV symptoms can include fever, headache, and body ache, and, occasionally, a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands. Most people experience mild symptoms of WNV or are asymptomatic.

Approximately one in 150 people infected with the virus will get really sick. They may develop inflammation of the brain (West Nile encephalitis) or inflammation of the area surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

Severe symptoms could include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, confusion, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. Symptoms may last several weeks, and effects on the nervous system may be permanent.

DHEC public information director Adam Myrick suggests that people avoid being outside during periods of dawn and dusk, as this is when mosquitos are typically active. If one has to be outside at this time, Myrick suggests wearing long sleeves and pants to protect from bites.
Perhaps the greatest way to prevent or lessen possible exposure to West Nile Virus is to reduce mosquito breeding around the house.
“People need to eliminate standing water around their homes. Just a little bit of stagnant water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos,” said Myrick. “Most people are aware that pet bowls and bird feeders are great for breeding mosquitos, but what people don’t always think about are clogged gutters or creased tarps used to cover children’s toys or boats.”

When people are indoors with their windows open, it is also a good idea to make sure that they have screens and that their screen windows don’t have openings that might allow mosquitos into their homes.
For more information about the West Nile Virus, visit SC DHEC at