WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Only three states have been spared from this year’s deadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus.
In the past few weeks, numbers of those who have been infected or died from the virus have soared. WWAY spoke with a local expert on infectious diseases to find out more.
The virus was first identified in east Africa in the 1930’s and eventually made its way to America, the first recorded case being in 1999. Health officials say this year may be the worst yet, but why?
“I don’t even think the CDC knows why there’s such an outbreak,” says Dr. Peter Maggiore, a Wilmington infectious disease specialist.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the West Nile Virus outbreak has infected more than 1,100 people in 38 states, resulting in 41 deaths.
Some say the weather could be a factor, and some like Maggiore say the regions that have seen the most cases could be due to bird migration. Many species of birds, he says, are more susceptible to the virus than humans.
“If you look at a map of the United States, they are in a very contiguous, sort of like a channel going up the Mississippi Valley, which might coincide with how the mosquitoes or the birds are traveling,” Maggiore says.
He says About 80 percent of those with West Nile Virus have no idea they have it and most never develop symptoms. In North Carolina, there has only been one recorded case, according to the CDC. Earlier this month, 84-year old Howard West of Goldsboro died. It is believed he was bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus while working in his garden.
David Jenkins with the New Hanover County Health Department says more than 40 species of mosquitoes have been identified in our area. More than half of those, he says, have the potential to carry WNV. Jenkins says our area’s salt marshes are a major contributor to the mosquito population.
Maggiore says though there’s not a huge threat to us, you can never be too cautious.
“There is always a risk,” he says. “How high the risk, this outbreak may be evolving.”
The New Hanover County Health Department is now in their second week of mosquito spraying and expect to be finished with the entire county by next week. They expect to spray all 28 zones at least twice.
In the meantime, you can help eliminate mosquito breeding grounds by getting rid of any standing water and always wear insect repellent while outside.