Just two human cases of the West Nile virus have ever been confirmed in Beaufort County — both within eight months of Hurricane Matthew.
Gregg Hunt, Beaufort County Mosquito Control director, said the timing of the events is no coincidence.
“Hurricane Matthew has played a major role in what we’re seeing,” Hunt said.
“After Hurricane Matthew, a lot of debris had fallen into standing water caused by the flooding and tidal waves,” he said. “And organic material decaying in the water produces an ideal breeding ground for that kind of mosquito (that carries West Nile). ... That’s what set the tone after the hurricane.”
Beaufort County’s first human case was confirmed on Oct. 20, less than two weeks after Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina. The second case was confirmed late Friday.
In 2016, Beaufort County Mosquito Control received more than 1,800 mosquito complaints — breaking records for most complaints received by the department in a day, a week, a month and a year.
Only about 100 of those complaints were reported before Hurricane Matthew.
“Although the hurricane was eight months ago, we didn’t have the cold temperatures this winter to kill off all the mosquitoes,” Hunt said. “I think the virus kept circulating among birds and mosquitoes, and now with the high temperatures, more mosquitoes are being generated and more are feeding on birds, humans and horses.”
Within the last few weeks, eight groups of mosquitoes on Hilton Head tested positive for the virus. In 2016, not a single group tested positive in the county.
Chatham County Mosquito Control also confirmed that a group of mosquitoes collected there recently tested positive for the virus.
According to Hunt, the mosquitoes and breeding habitats are very similar in Charleston, Beaufort and Chatham counties, so it makes sense that the other counties are seeing similar affects from the Hurricane.
In response to the newly confirmed case, Hunt said his department has “intensified its surveillance of West Nile and intensified the frequency of abatement efforts.”
His department is also asking the public to report any dead birds they see, as it helps with surveillance efforts.
In order to minimize your chances of catching the virus, Hunt recommends avoiding peak mosquito feeding time — dawn, dusk and early evening hours. If you must be outside to play or work, you should wear proper insect repellent and protective clothing that covers your skin.
In addition, empty standing water on your property and make sure the screens on your windows and doors are working properly, he said.
According to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, about 1 in 5 people who are infected with the West Nile virus will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. These people likely will have a full recovery, but fatigue and weakness could last for weeks or months.
Less than 1 percent of those infected will develop a serious neurological illness such as encephalitis or meningitis, according to the release.
How to report
If you have any concerns about mosquitoes in your area or you want to report a dead bird, call Beaufort County Mosquito Control at 843-255-5800.