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West Nile Virus found in mosquitoes in 2 Richland County communities

Here’s how West Nile is spread — and what symptoms to look for after a mosquito bite

West Nile Virus can be deadly — but only one in five people who are infected by a mosquito bite will develop any symptoms, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Here's what to look for.
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West Nile Virus can be deadly — but only one in five people who are infected by a mosquito bite will develop any symptoms, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Here's what to look for.

Richland County officials are warning residents to take precautions after West Nile Virus was detected in two areas of the county.

The virus was detected in mosquito populations in the Forest Acres and St. Andrews areas as part of routine surveillance work, according to a Monday news release from Richland County. Crews will begin spraying for mosquitoes in those areas this week.

There are at least 61 different species of mosquitoes found in the Palmetto State, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.

While the virus was found in those two communities, officials warn residents countywide to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites and eliminate standing water on their property, which can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin discusses the city's concerns and actions after a West Nile-infected bird was found dead at Sumter and Hampton streets downtown on July 17.

“We strongly encourage everyone to take personal protective measures even though they may not be within the specific areas we mentioned,” said Tammy Brewer, manager of Vector Control for Richland County. “Just because those sites have been identified as positive doesn’t mean they are the only sites with West Nile Virus present.”

Brewer urged residents to take protective steps, but not to be alarmed.

“This is normally the time of year when we see a rise in West Nile Virus activity,” she said.

In 2018, the City of Columbia confirmed a number of cases of West Nile Virus after discovering dead birds, The State reported.

Across South Carolina, there were at least seven confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus last year, and one person in the Upstate died, according to DHEC. Health officials said there were at least 17 confirmed human cases of the virus in South Carolina in 2017.

The best measures to prevent mosquito bites includes keeping the insects outside of homes, avoid the outdoors during dawn, dusk and twilight hours when most mosquito bites occur, and by wearing both insect repellent and long-sleeve shirts and pants when possible, according to DHEC.

Crews will spray the immediate and surrounding areas where the virus was detected this week. The county did not specify where in Forest Acres and St. Andrews the West Nile Virus-infected mosquitoes were found.

Residents are urged to stay indoors while a spraying truck is in their area, to allow drivers to thoroughly cover the area, the county said. Spraying typically begins around midnight in urban areas.

Most people infected with the virus do not feel sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five people who are infected develop a fever or other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash.

Serious symptoms, which affect about one in 150 people infected with the virus, include encephalitis, meningitis, high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, tremors or muscle weakness, according to the CDC.

Mosquitoes become infected with West Nile when they feed on infected birds that carry the virus in their blood, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. After one to two weeks, infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans and other animals.

Anyone who finds a dead bird in Richland County is asked to contact Vector Control at 803-929-6000.

If it is clear the bird was not killed by a cat or hit by a car, officials said to take several precautions when retrieving it. That includes not touching the bird with bare hands.

Officials suggest wearing protective gloves of two layers of plastic bags over the hands to pick up the dead bird, before putting it in a “zipper top bag and put the bag on ice.”

Zika and West Nile viruses are both transmitted by mosquitoes. Officials from public health and from Sacramento-Yolo vector control explain how to protect yourself from bites.

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Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.
Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.
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