Local News

N.C. Reports First Human West Nile Virus Case

Posted September 19, 2002 3:19 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina health officials have confirmed the state's first human case of

West Nile virus


Wednesday afternoon, officials announced that an 80-year-old man from Henderson was treated for West Nile virus.

Officials said Ralph Turrentine checked into the Durham VA Hospital after complaining of a high fever and dizziness in late August. Doctors said a week in the hospital helped put him on the road to recovery.

The World War II veteran said he likes working outdoors, but does not remember being getting the mosquito bite that infected him.

West Nile virus generally is transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes.

"All I can tell you is that we are in peak season [for mosquitoes] and that the fact that we had one [case] now is not surprising," said Dr. Jeff Engel, state epidemiologist.

Dr. Leah Devlin, acting state health director, said an early fall will help stop the breeding cycle of mosquitoes.

"So the risk is not new because we are announcing our first human case. We have been living in North Carolina with West Nile virus," she said.

Last month, a man visiting from New York state was thought to have West Nile virus, although tests were inconclusive.

More than 600 birds have been brought to the State Laboratory of Public Health for testing this summer, and 44 birds from 15 counties tested positive as of early September.

The number of human lab specimens has increased at the same time, straining the lab's capacity, Devlin said.

With more than 400 human blood samples, health officials said they will concentrate almost entirely on testing human lab specimens for the virus, limiting testing of birds to counties that had no prior reports of the virus in birds.

Health officials stress that less than 1 percent of people who develop the disease will become severely ill. People age 50 and over are most at risk to develop serious illlness.

The 80-year-old Vance County man reportedly developed encephalitis.

Symptoms of West Nile virus are vague at first, much like the flu. Symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, swollen glands and a rash. More serious cases can cause high fever, neck stiffness and in rare cases, lead to death.