Rise in West Nile locally

Among the varieties of mosquito found in South Carolina is the tiger mosquito. PROVIDED

Three people in South Carolina have died of West Nile virus this year, raising concerns as the nation grapples with one of the worst outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness in U.S. history.

Three of the state’s 28 cases of West Nile have been reported in the Charleston area. They are among 4,531 cases and 183 deaths in the lower 48 states as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Until this year, only one person in South Carolina had died from West Nile in more than a decade of tracking the virus.

Locally, two of the cases were reported in Charleston County and one in Berkeley County.

“We have seen a slight uptick in cases,” Michael Kilby, the Medical University of Sou`th Carolina infectious disease division director, said in an email. “The take home here is that while these viral infections are fairly common, only a small group actually develop encephalitis, or severe illness. If you develop unusually severe headaches or confusion, you should seek immediate medical attention if you think you may have been exposed.”

The heart of the state’s outbreak appears to be in the Midlands, where 16 cases were reported in three counties, including eight cases and one death in Aiken County.

The two other fatalities were in Darlington and Cherokee counties. All three deaths occurred in August.

Health officials couldn’t yet say whether age or pre-existing medical conditions factored into the deaths. The Aiken County death was an older man.

Mosquitoes have been a particular problem this year, with swarms spurred by periodic rain during the summer and fall.

Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties each stepped up mosquito spraying and other control measures to deal with the insects. The efforts will continue until cold weather finally knocks them down.

Showers Thursday and the chance of rain today won’t help, with temperatures ranging from the 50s at night to the 70s during the day, plenty warm enough to incubate mosquitoes.

Health officials say mosquitoes don’t disappear until temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Eggs can lie dormant over the winter.

It’s been a bad year for mosquitoes across the nation. Texas has been hit the worst, with 1,580 West Nile cases and 55 deaths.

The 2012 West Nile season has been a difficult one for many states, especially Texas, which experienced emergency conditions.

“Here in South Carolina, we also experienced a more difficult season than normal, including the tragic loss of three lives,” said Jim Beasley of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “People over the age of 50 appear to be at greater risk of becoming sick than others.”

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