Local Intern Gets West Nile Woman Living in Hoffman Estates First Human Case in Illinois

By Mask, Teresa; Patterson, John | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

Local Intern Gets West Nile Woman Living in Hoffman Estates First Human Case in Illinois


Mask, Teresa, Patterson, John, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Teresa Mask and John Patterson Daily Herald Staff Writers

Advising the public not to panic, public health officials Tuesday said Illinois' first human case of West Nile virus had been confirmed in the suburbs but said the virus continues to present a low-level health risk.

The mild case of West Nile virus was confirmed in a 22-year-old Maryland woman who, until late July, was working as a veterinary intern at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn and living in Hoffman Estates.

Her case, contracted through a mosquito bite and confirmed by tests in Maryland, was mild and she has since recovered, said Dr. John Lumpkin, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Local health officials said the Maryland woman lived in Hoffman Estates and worked.

Even as he told Illinois residents not to panic and to simply take recommended precautions, Lumpkin said "a death is certainly not impossible."

News of Illinois' first human case of the virus comes as Louisiana announced the state's fifth confirmed West Nile death Tuesday.

But Lumpkin stressed that the virus, which is contracted through mosquito bites, is rare in humans and that most people will simply feel like they have the flu. It is only dangerous for older people, those with chronic illness and people who have weakened immune systems.

The Illinois case announced Tuesday is not likely the first, nor will it be the last, officials said. Many people may have already had the virus but simply thought they had the flu.

"Based on the type of activity we've seen in Illinois, it was inevitable that we were going to see a human case," said Tom Schafer, a spokesman for state public health department. "It's likely we're going to see more."

One out of every 40,000 people bitten by an infected mosquito will develop serious symptoms such as stiffness, severe headaches, progressing fevers, and delirium.

Mostly the virus affects animals. A total of 175 birds, 105 mosquito batches, and three horses in 46 counties throughout Illinois have tested positive this year for West Nile virus since surveillance began May 1.

Officials from suburban health departments and mosquito abatement companies said they have been fielding calls from concerned residents since news broke about the West Nile deaths in Louisiana and human infections in Mississippi.

"There's been a lot of press given to the Louisiana and Mississippi situation and needless to say people are getting alarmed," said Michael Szyska, director of the Northwest Mosquito Abatement District based in Wheeling. "We don't want to cause a panic. It's basically a rare disease. Those who should be most worried are people with compromised immune system."

Officials said the suburban intern became ill with a fever, muscle cramps and rash July 26. She returned home to Maryland either later that day or July 27. Tests by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed she had been infected. Health officials say given the virus' incubation period of three to 15 days, she must have been infected during her stay in Illinois.

The woman was never hospitalized and has recovered. In fact, she never fully contracted the illness recently blamed for killing the Louisiana residents. Those deaths were caused by encephalitis, a brain infection brought on by the West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes feeding on infected birds and then biting humans.

The Maryland woman had a much milder form of the virus called West Nile fever that could easily be mistaken for the flu. …

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