Symptoms of West Nile still concern for campus

Janette Neuwahl

At a barbeque this summer Weinberg freshman Peter Stach remembers getting bombarded by mosquito bites, leaving his body covered in red splotches. Days later, when Stach had a fever of nearly 104 degrees, he decided to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site to learn more about the West Nile virus.

“I didn’t think I really had it until I looked it up online and noticed I had most of the symptoms,” said Stach, adding that he remained ill for almost two weeks following the late August barbeque. “I basically had the flu with a pretty serious fever and a rash, which is the worst part.”

After doing some research, Stach, of Chicago, contacted his doctor and made an appointment to be diagnosed. But when the illness faded before his appointment, Stach decided against seeing his doctor. Even if he had, Stach said he still would not know if he had the West Nile virus.

Stach is not alone in his state of wonder. History Prof. Edward Muir also encountered some West Nile symptoms this summer, but even after seeing a doctor he did not get the blood test needed to confirm the virus. During his visit, Muir said his doctor believed he had West Nile.

“There was a directive from the Illinois Department of Public Health saying ‘do not send us any more samples,'” said Muir, adding that the state is not giving blood tests to patients unless they are hospitalized for the virus.

Both Muir and Stach experienced high fevers for about a week before getting a rash that Stach described as beginning on his torso and rising to his chest. The final stages of the illness are fatigue, which Muir and Stach both experienced the following week.

But the difference between Muir and Stach’s cases is their age. Muir had to be more conscious of his condition, because the risk of getting the fatal form of West Nile, known as encephalitis, increases with age. In addition, since both men live in Cook County, which maintains the highest number of reported West Nile encephalitis deaths, the virus is even more apparent.

Spread by mosquitoes, West Nile only recently has become a problem for Illinois residents. According to the state’s Department of Public Health, the first human patients carrying the virus were reported Aug. 6.

And though University Health Service has yet to encounter any students with West Nile symptoms, students should always visit Searle Student Health Service if they are feeling ill, Head Nurse Sue Whiting said.

As fall progresses and the weather gets colder, Whiting said the peak season for West Nile will end as mosquito breeding months draw to a close and hopefully will appease concerns about the virus.