An elderly Aiken County man is the first in South Carolina to die with the West Nile virus this summer, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Stacy Furtick, 80, of North Augusta died Aug. 25 from complications due to the disease, state officials said Monday.
“This gentleman tested positive for West Nile Virus infection after being hospitalized with sudden onset of high fever, confusion and headache,” stated Riyadh Muhammad, M.D. and regional medical director for DHEC Region 5 Public Health in a press release. “In all likelihood – like most South Carolinians sickened by this disease in 2012 – he probably contracted the illness after being bitten by mosquitoes in the area near his home. Although this unfortunate death occurred in Aiken County, West Nile virus could exist wherever mosquitoes live, and West Nile virus cases have been reported throughout the state this year.”
Furtick’s son-in-law Danny Wray said Furtick was probably bitten while he was in his back yard at his North Augusta home this summer.
“He liked to sit outside, and my wife always got on to him about mosquitoes,” he said. “He would always say he could handle it, but he didn’t know there was one he couldn’t handle.”
Wray said he and his wife, Heidi, wanted to talk about Furtick to warn the public of the dangers.
“Looking back, all the symptoms were there,” he added. “If you see symptoms, don’t wait.”
The afternoon of Aug. 18, the family went to the flea market in Springfield when Furtick started to show obvious signs that he wasn’t well.
“He loved to eat a sausage biscuit – this was our routine – but he was staring into space and just didn’t have an appetite,” Wray said.
After the family returned to Aiken County, Furtick went to his residence alone to take it easy.
Wray said he checked in on his father-in-law the following day and knew something was wrong. He made a doctor’s appointment for him.
The next day, Heidi Wray and a friend went to check in on Furtick.
“He didn’t come to the door,” Danny Wray said. “They had to cut a hole in the screen. He was lying on the kitchen floor shaking. We don’t know how long he had been there.”
Furtick had a 104-degree temperature.
“He never stopped shaking,” Danny Wray reflected.
The family called EMS, and Furtick was taken to a Georgia hospital.
After he was admitted, doctors drew blood and ran a battery of tests.
A short time later, Furtick went into a coma.
The family later found out the 80-year-old man had contracted West Nile.
“He never came out of (the coma,)” he said.
Furtick and Wray met in the mid- to late -970s while they were both employed at the Savannah River Site.
Wray said they developed a close friendship over several years that grew even closer when Furtick introduced his stepdaughter, Heidi, to Wray.
They married in 1990.“He was a wonderful guy,” Wray said. “…a perfect gentleman.”
A total of 17 cases have been identified by SCDHEC in 11 different counties across the state and five of those were in Aiken County. Three animals and 13 birds have also tested positive for the illness in South Carolina.
According to Veleta Rudnick of DHEC’s Aiken County Public Health Department, there were no confirmed cases in the state in 2011. The Center for Disease Control said there has been an influx in West Nile cases across the country this year.
Mild winters and an unusually rainy summer has led to the increase in the mosquito population locally, which is a contributing factor to the disease spreading to more people, Rudnick said.
Dr. Gerald Gordon of Internal Medicine Associates of Aiken said that they are recognizing more West Nile now than in past years.
Gordon, who has been practicing in Aiken for approximately 18 years, said death from West Nile is typically uncommon and many people infected with the disease don’t even get sick. According to DHEC, about four out of five people will not experience any symptoms.
Gordon added that West Nile is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are vague.
According to SCDHEC, milder symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, the occasional skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph nodes.
In more serious cases, inflammation of the brain, the area around the brain or the spinal cord can occur. Severe symptoms also include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, confusion, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. Those symptoms could last for several weeks. Only one in approximately 150 people infected get severely ill.
Symptoms can take about two to 14 days to appear after infection.
Dr. Muhammad said in the press release that the virus is a disease of birds that can be transmitted to humans and animals through a bite of a West Nile infected mosquito. That mosquito picks it up from feeding on an infected bird.
Now, prevention is key, and getting the word out is important, Rudnick said.
She said to make sure to wear DEET-based repellent and empty out any outdoor containers or bird baths of water where mosquitoes will breed. She added that dusk and dawn are when most bites happen.
Rudnick added that wearing long sleeves and pants when possible is also helpful.
For more information on West Nile Virus, visit www.scdhec.gov/environment/envhealth/pests/mosquitoes-wnv.htm.