By Renee Chou
Goldsboro, NC (WRAL/CNN) - An elderly man has become the first person in North Carolina to die of West Nile virus in at least seven years.
They met when they were teenagers, and got married when she was 17 and he was 18.
Betty and Howard Best were married for 65 years and when you spend that much time together you know when something is off.
"He sat in this chair one afternoon and slept through the whole NASCAR race. And he was an avid race car fan," said Betty.
She says Howard never, ever slept through NASCAR.
"And all that day, I sat there and watched him, and I knew something was wrong with my husband," said Betty.
She says he had trouble moving his arms and legs, so they went to the hospital.
"At that point, they just thought it was dehydration. Gave him some fluids and sent him home," said Betty.
She says Howard was no longer Howard. He lacked energy, an appetite, and he had tremors and a fever. They went back to the hospital, and tests confirmed he had West Nile virus.
"That's when I knew my husband was going to go," said Betty.
She said Howard just got weaker and weaker. He was not in any pain, but in his last moments he didn't even have the strength to walk anymore. He died August 9.
"Just as easy as it could be. No struggles, just gave it up," Betty said.
She thinks the West Nile-carrying mosquito may have bitten Howard in their backyard where he worked on his tomato plants.
"He tended them, and he picked them, and he just went out there off and on all summer," she said.
That area puddles after it rains, attracting mosquitoes. She thinks that's what happened, and she is at peace with it.
"He did not have to be in a nursing home and just lay there. Because if you got to go, just get out of here quickly. It's my feeling," she said.
It's some consolation, but the loss is deep. She says the home they shared feels empty, and so does her heart.
"Because I'll be very frank with you. I don't have a lot of desire to hang around here now, and I hope my children understand. You've been with someone 65 years and you go put them in the ground, and a part of you goes in there too," said Betty.
The United States is experiencing the biggest spike in West Nile virus cases since 2004.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it's aware of at least 693 cases this year in 32 states.
Howard Best is one of at least 26 Americans to have died in the outbreak.