West Nile Virus is quickly spreading throughout the United States at a speed unseen in previous years, health care officials said.

The victims have come from as far west as California, as far east as North Carolina, and almost every state in between.

“Thus far in 2012, 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an Aug. 21 update on the spread of the virus. “A total of 1,118 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 41 deaths, have been reported to CDC.”

According to USA Today, 28 of those deaths have occurred this year alone.

The National Institutes of Health said that the virus first appeared in the U.S. in 1999 and is caused by mosquitoes that carry the disease and then infect humans through a simple bite.

The elderly are at the greatest risk, but anyone who contracts the disease and develops encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, “inflammation of the brain and spinal cord,” are at risk of dying.

Betty Best lost her husband of 65 years, Howard Best, to the virus. She told North Carolina CNN affiliate WRAL, that she first noticed something was awry when her husband slept through an entire showing of a NASCAR race on television.

Doctors first told Best that her husband was simply dehydrated, but in a second trip to the hospital, he was diagnosed with the virus. By then the disease had progressed too far to be cured. Best had become extremely lethargic, had no appetite, and was carrying a fever. He slowly lost his ability to talk and move his limbs.

“That’s when I knew my husband was going to go,” said Betty Best. Her husband died Aug. 9 and Best said her husband’s death was “just as easy as it could be.” She said she was glad he didn’t have to spend his last days in a nursing home.

Health officials believe Best, like many others, contracted the disease while working outdoors or enjoying his favorite pastime, gardening.

According to the CDC, 75 percent of the cases have occurred in only five states, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Half of that number are from Texas.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer