Mecklenburg County health officials last week confirmed the countys first case of a human infected with West Nile virus.
Normally, we wouldnt know the name of someone who became ill with the mosquito-borne virus. But this time, its one of our own, Charlotte Observer reporter Elizabeth Leland. And she has a message:
People need to be aware, she said. Ive always avoided using chemicals in the house and the yard but Ive been telling my friends to spray with an insecticide that has DEET.
Leland, 58, has been gone from work since Aug. 10, after she developed flu-like symptoms nausea, headache, fever that sent her to the hospital.
Tests eventually showed she was infected with West Nile virus, which may be making its biggest appearance in the United States since first detected in 1999.
In the early years, we even reported cases of West Nile virus in dead birds. Then it became so prevalent health officials told us to assume the virus was everywhere.
This year, an outbreak in Texas has reminded us that mosquitoes still present a danger. Two people have died in North Carolina, which has reported five West Nile cases, making this one of the worst years on record.
Most infections are mild
Most people infected with West Nile virus do not become seriously ill and may never know theyve been infected. People can develop symptoms between 3 and 14 days after they are bitten by an infected mosquito. And symptoms can last for as a few days to several weeks.
Leland first noticed symptoms on Aug. 3, when every joint in my body was screaming in pain, and I couldnt sleep. Ankles, knees, wrists, even my toes and my fingers.
With Motrin, the pain subsided, but she just didnt feel well. I felt confused at times. I couldnt think clearly.
During the next week, she developed a sore throat and a low-grade fever. At the end of the week, she saw her doctor, who drew blood for tests. Over the weekend, she developed a blinding headache, nausea and vomiting. Her husband took her to the emergency room, and after a lung X-ray and other tests, doctors sent her home with pain and nausea medicines.
The next day, her fever spiked to 103, and she went back to the ER. A test showed she had meningitis, swelling of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. She was admitted to the hospital for five days, where she received antibiotics while doctors did more tests. Her fever broke after four days.
Doctors ruled out Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Then on Aug. 23, she got word she had tested positive for West Nile virus.
No one knows for sure where she was infected. Leland and her family vacationed this summer in Rhode Island, but she doesnt recall being bitten there. She thinks she was probably infected in late July, when she spent many hours working in her garden in Charlotte.
I got ravaged by mosquitoes to the point where I started wearing long pants and long sleeves outside. But it was probably too late.
There is no specific treatment for the West Nile virus infection. Antibiotics are not effective. Milder cases improve on their own, but those with more serious symptoms may need medical attention and treatment, such as intravenous fluids and nursing care.
Like all of us at the newspaper, Leland was scheduled to work during the Democratic National Convention. Instead, shell be recovering at home for a few weeks, with the lights off and the blinds closed. Another symptom of her illness is photophobia, an extreme sensitivity to light.
If I have too much light, I get headaches and nausea, she said. I spend most of my day with a sleep mask over my eyes, lying down. My mind is still a little fuzzy.