Posted Aug 30, 2012

Health officials are committed to raising awareness of West Nile virus after a recent death in a neighboring county.

Health departments in Wilson and Nash counties in North Carolina are joining forces with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the N.C. Division of Public Health to educate communities about West Nile virus and steps people can take to prevent the mosquito-borne illness.

A recent death attributed to West Nile virus in Wayne County, N.C. is a reminder that the virus can be a serious illness and is a threat to Nash County and Wilson County residents, said Amy Thomas, coordinator of health services at Nash County Health Department.

Officials said the generally mild winter and summer drought conditions across the country this year have contributed to those West Nile virus cases that continue to increase across the country. West Nile can cause serious neurological illnesses, including meningitis and encephalitis.

More than 1,000 illnesses and nearly 100 deaths nationwide were reported last year alone. Officials say many cases are not reported, which mean the number of West Nile-related illnesses is likely higher.

As of Aug. 14, 43 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds or mosquitoes, according to the CDC. So far this year, Nearly 700 cases of West Nile virus disease in people have been reported to the CDC, 26 of those included death. This year’s reported cases is the highest number of cases reported to the CDC since West Nile was first detected in the U.S. in 1999.

Despite the spread and the risk of severe illnesses it can cause, public health officials say, there are a large number of Americans not taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

“Healthy, active adults who are 50 and older have the highest risk of illness caused by West Nile virus,” said Bill Hill, Nash County Health Department director. “People who work outdoors in occupations like farming or construction are at greater risk of getting bitten by an infected mosquito. One bite from an infected mosquito can lead to a severe illness and possibly life-altering illness. Prevention is the key to protection.”

[email protected] — 265-7879

©2012 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.)

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