ONDBEAT: Buzz about West Nile virus kept behind (skeeter) screen

When it comes to things to worry about in the midst of striving to have a little carefree fun, this summer hasn’t been all that unusual.

Like many summers prior, it’s been rife with rip currents, heat, too much rain, jellyfish and fending off mosquitoes permeating our region, especially after all the rain.

Another alarm was triggered a few weeks ago by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which sent out a news release July 20 urging residents and visitors to take precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses.

The alert came following a death the previous week of a resident from West Nile virus, the first confirmed case for 2018.

“The individual was an adult living in the southeastern part of the state,” the release read. That was it.

Nosy reporters like me wanted to know more.

“Southeastern part of the state” could mean Brunswick County, the southeastern-most county in North Carolina. It wasn’t that far-fetched.

Were local mosquitoes infected with “the fever?” Did we need to alert readers so they could take extra precautions to avoid getting hit by the little bloodsuckers?

We’ll never know for sure, because the rest of the story wasn’t available.

“To protect patient confidentiality, the department is not releasing additional details,” the next paragraph announced.

This isn’t the first time we’ve sought information about health-related concerns so residents can beware of their surroundings, but state health officials have claimed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) jurisprudence.

This past January, we learned there had been an influenza death in Brunswick County. But the health department declined to release information about when the death occurred or the age or gender of the person who died.

We didn’t ask for the person’s name and address.

We wanted to know when and where in Brunswick County so people could be mindful and take proper precautions in their area.

Once again this summer, the health department stands behind HIPAA and a thick, impenetrable screen in declining to share where those infected mosquitoes might be lurking.

Citizens are advised to wear repellent, reduce mosquito-breeding grounds by emptying containers of standing water, repair door and window screens and avoid hanging out with skeeters or inviting them over for Bloody Marys.

“These infections are rare, but this is a tragic reminder that they can be fatal,” State Public Health Veterinarian Carl Williams is quoted in the July release, cheerfully adding, “We see most cases of West Nile virus from July through November, but you can still enjoy the outdoors by reducing mosquito populations around your home and through proper use of repellents.”

That’s supposed to be the good news, I guess.

The bad news is, just like hurricanes, when it comes to West Nile virus worries we still have to make it through November before we’re in the clear, right here in southeastern North Carolina.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.