Health Department confirms first case of West Nile Virus in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Health Department has confirmed the first human case of the West Nile Virus in Shelby County.

Health officials say they’ve been finding infected mosquitoes in the county for weeks, but this is the first human case this year.

The health department won’t release much information about the victim in this case, including his age or in which part of the county he lives, but health officials are warning everyone to take steps now to protect yourself and your family.

Our unseasonably warm winter forced the health department to begin spraying for mosquitoes earlier than usual this year, in February, but even that head-start couldn’t protect everyone from the pests that carry the dangerous virus.

Health officials say a man who works outdoors contracted the disease.

“We’ve had positive pools all over the county for weeks, but this is the first person who’s come down ill with the disease,” said David Sweat, chief of epidemiology for the Shelby County Health Department.

Of course, people who spend a lot of time outside are more likely to be bitten and therefore more at risk for West Nile.

Construction worker Brad Harmon deals with the pests every day.

“Man they’re annoying,” he said. “I would say they’re more annoying at home, just trying to enjoy a night out or an evening. Even when we get the yard sprayed, we’re pretty much locked in the house. They’re bad.”

Since 2002, dozens of people in Shelby County have contracted the virus, and 14 have died.

But health officials say those numbers have dramatically decreased over the years thanks to its Vector Control Program. Every day, depending on the weather, crews treat and spray the worst areas with an insecticide that kills the pests.

“We’ve definitely reduced the number of cases in Shelby County by about 40 percent over what it used to be, and so that’s an example of an investment in prevention that works,” Sweat said.

He says 80 percent of people who become infected with West Nile don’t even have symptoms, some will feel like they’re coming down with the flu, and for others, the virus can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

“My wife is due in about four weeks, so I definitely don’t like to hear that at all,” Harmon said. “We’re just gonna keep everybody inside.”

Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to remember the four Ds:

  • Defend yourself with bug spray that has the ingredient Deet
  • Dress in long sleeves
  • Dusk and dawn are when mosquitoes are most active, so stay inside if you can
  • Drain any standing water around your home

Symptoms include fever, headache and body aches. More severe symptoms can include a high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma or convulsions.