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Wayne County man dies from West Nile virus

Public health officials say a Wayne County man has become North Carolina's first death from West Nile virus in at least seven years.

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GOLDSBORO, N.C. — Public health officials said Tuesday a second person has died after contracting the West Nile virus, and doctors are treating five other cases across the state.

The person who died lived in the Triad area, according to a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Health. The person, who was not identified, is the second death in the state this year from the virus. Earlier this month, a Wayne County died become North Carolina's first death from West Nile virus in at least seven years.

Howard West, 84, of Goldsboro, died Aug. 9. Wayne County Health Director Davin Madden announced the cause of death on Monday.

Madden says his staff has notified all medical providers in the area about the case.

West Nile virus is typically transmitted by mosquitoes, and Betty West said Tuesday that she believes her husband was bitten by mosquitoes while tending to his backyard tomato plants.

Howard West was in generally good health until Aug. 5, when his wife noticed he lacked the energy to stay awake for a NASCAR race on television.

"All that day, I sat there and watched him, and I knew something was wrong with my husband," said Betty West, who had been married to him for 65 years.

The following day, they went to a nearby hospital, where physicians thought Howard West was simply dehydrated. They gave him some fluids and sent him home.

After her husband continued to be lethargic last week, lost his appetite and developed a fever, Betty West said she took him to a nearby hospital, where a spinal tap confirmed he had contracted West Nile virus.

"That's when I knew my husband was going to go," she said.

Most infected people show no signs of the virus, but common symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a stiff neck.

Howard West didn't suffer, his wife said, but in the end barely had the strength to even talk.

"(It was) just as easy as it could be – no struggles, just gave it up," she said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that Howard West is the first person to die of West Nile virus in North Carolina since at least 2005. There have been only two other cases of the virus reported statewide since 2009.

Betty West said she's at peace with how her husband died, but the loss still hits hard.

"He did not have to be in a nursing home and just lie there. If you got to go, just get out of here quickly, that's my feeling," she said. "I'll be very frank with you. I don't have a lot of desire to hang around here now, and I hope my children understand. You've been with someone 65 years, and you go put them in the ground, and a part of you goes in there, too."

Cases of West Nile virus have spiked nationwide this year. More than 200 people have contracted the illness – the highest number since 2004 – and Howard West is the fifth death.

DHHS officials recommend the following precautions to eliminate potential mosquito-breeding sites around homes and businesses: 

  • Eliminate standing water in places such as flower pots, discarded containers, gutters and kiddie pools.
  • Clean ornamental ponds and ensure that filtration systems are functioning properly.
  • Clean and change water in horse troughs at least once a week.

August and September are the peak months for mosquitoes in North Carolina, and Madden said people should also wear long sleeves when outdoors and use approved repellents to create a double-barrier of protection.

West Nile is a bird virus that mosquitoes carry to humans.

"We had subsequent rains in the summertime, which produced mosquitoes that feed on birds, pick up the virus and transfer it to people," said Charles Apperson, an entomologist at North Carolina State University.

Madden cautioned against handling dead birds.

"This is not a condition for a state of alarm. This is more a condition for a state of awareness," he said.


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