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The Daily Tar Heel

West Nile Hits Closer to Home

The virus has been found, but not yet contracted, in North Carolina.

A man visiting from New York was hospitalized Aug. 9 after Wake County doctors found traces of the virus in his blood.

Carol Schriber, spokeswoman for the N.C. Division of Environmental Health, said that after further testing, state officials concluded Tuesday that the man did not contract the virus while in North Carolina. West Nile -- a disease contracted from mosquitoes -- has a 3- to 15-day incubation period.

No North Carolina residents have tested positive.

But the virus will soon become a part of daily life, said Jeff Ingle, head of the Human General Communicable Disease Control Branch of the N.C. Division of Environmental Health.

Ingle said the chance of an infected case appearing in Orange County is likely.

"Birds (that test positive for) West Nile virus are likely to turn up in Orange County because cases have turned up in surrounding counties," he said.

The virus can be passed on to humans by birds and horses who have tested positive for the disease in the state.

But Ingle downplayed the recent panic over the West Nile virus.

"It is an epidemic simply because it is new and it kills people, which is alarming," he said.

Ingle said the state has taken few precautions to prevent the virus from spreading. "The state has not resorted to spraying in North Carolina and will not do so unless the disease becomes widespread in humans across the state," he said.

But larvacides are being used to kill mosquito larvae in standing water, and entomologists at the N.C. Laboratory of Public Health are in the process of testing birds of prey such as crows, blue jays and vultures from around the state.

This summer alone, 378 bird remains were collected and tested. Fifteen randomly selected human blood samples are also tested each day.

There are three theories about how the disease arrived in the United States, said Ingle. The virus either was brought into the United States by a foreigner, by imported birds or by birds brought in by heavy storm winds.

Bernadette Burden, spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the people most at risk were those 50 years and older. She said less than 15 percent of those infected with the virus will die.

Minor symptoms are fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes. More severe cases can result in encephalitis, meningitis and death.

N.C. residents can reduce the risk of contracting West Nile by wearing repellent that contains at least 35 percent diethyltoluamide, better known as DEET, and long sleeves and pants, Burden said. She also said people should limit their outside activities during dusk and dawn and remove standing water from their property.

A treatment drug for the West Nile virus, Intron A, was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for trial testing.

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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