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The Daily Tar Heel

West Nile cases spike in NC, nationwide

Charlotte resident Elizabeth Leland never expected an afternoon of gardening to keep her from work for almost a month.

On Aug. 23, Leland, a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, was diagnosed with West Nile virus — one of five cases reported in North Carolina in the last month.

“She started having flu-like symptoms — nausea, headache and fever,” said Karen Garloch, Leland’s coworker at The Observer.

More than 30,000 people in the United States have gotten sick with West Nile since 1999. The virus originated in Africa.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control, North Carolina has only reported five cases of the virus in 2012 so far, two resulting in death. Texas has reported 1,013 cases — and 40 deaths.

N.C. Department of Health Spokeswoman Julie Henry said the department is keeping a close watch on the cases.

“The experts don’t really have a good answer as to why West Nile is occurring more frequently this year,” Henry said.

The state reported no cases in 2009 and 2010 and only two cases in 2011, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Orange County has not had a confirmed West Nile case to date.

But Stacy Shelp, spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Department, said the department is taking steps to educate residents on how to protect against the virus.

“We’re focusing on education and prevention methods associated with that,” she said.

Shelp said the best way for residents to protect against West Nile is to drain any standing water near their home, wear protective clothing and use insect repellent.

Henry said standing water can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“Mosquitoes can breed in something as small as a bottle cap,” she said.

Though some counties spray outdoor areas to keep down mosquitoes that spread the virus, Shelp said Orange County does not.

“At this time, Orange County does not have any plans — to the best of our knowledge — to do any kind of spraying or pesticide treatments,” she said.

And not all people who contract West Nile show as many symptoms as Leland.

About 80 percent of cases involve no symptoms at all, Henry said.

She said a small group will develop flu-like symptoms — and an even smaller group will develop more severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization.

Garloch said Leland developed more severe symptoms, including sore throat, vomiting and meningitis.

She said Leland was temporarily hospitalized and is now at home recovering.

Garloch said she didn’t know when Leland could return to work: “She will be out for some weeks.”

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Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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