By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Cross country runner Christina Daniels is fast on her feet, but she isn’t quicker than a mosquito.
The Tupelo High School sophomore had a brush with West Nile virus just before school started this year.
“I started getting chills,” remembered Christina. “When I touched my skin, it hurt.”
Her parents, Mike and Donna Daniels, became very concerned when their oldest daughter, who is rarely sick, was huddled in a sweatshirt and blanket on July 31.
“It came on quick,” Donna Daniels said. “You knew she was sick. She was so lethargic, so out of it.”
It looked like the flu, but dad had a feeling about West Nile. As a cross country runner, Christina had spent plenty of time outside in Tupelo and at a North Carolina running camp.
“It had been in the news, so I looked it up,” Mike Daniels said. Her symptoms, including her 104-degree fever, matched West Nile. They watched her carefully for any signs she was developing the severe neuro-invasive form of the disease and took her to the doctor the next day.
The clinic was able to rule out mono and bacterial infection and checked her closely for signs of meningitis – an infection of the spinal cord. Her bloodwork was consistent with a virus.
“Nobody was saying West Nile,” Mike Daniels said, but a blood sample was sent to test for West Nile. Two days later, Christina developed pneumonia, but by Sunday, Aug. 5, she was fever free and on the mend.
On Monday, the lab results came back and showed Christina was positive for West Nile.
“By the time we found out, we were just in the mode of recovering from the pneumonia,” Donna Daniels said. Christina started classes at Tupelo High School on time, although she had to sit out of cross country meets until late August.
“I’m pretty much 100 percent,” Christina said Thursday as she was preparing for her second meet of the season.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, the Mississippi State Department of Health had confirmed 129 cases of West Nile virus in the state, including four deaths. Only two cases – one each in Monroe and Calhoun counties – have been confirmed in Northeast Mississippi.
“This is the most cases we’ve had by the end of July since 2002,” which was the high water mark for West Nile cases in Mississippi, said Dr. Paul Byers, deputy state epidemiologist.
But why have no cases been confirmed for Lee County when there’s been someone diagnosed in Tupelo?
Because of privacy rules, the state health department can’t comment on specific cases. Speaking generally, the public health surveillance system is separate from the diagnostic process in clinics and hospitals, Byers said.
“Their diagnosis is between them and their doctor,” Byers said.
The health department uses specific criteria set up to make sure cases are counted consistently from state to state. Some cases can be evaluated quickly; others take time.
“There’s no specific turnaround time,” Byers said.
Most people infected with West Nile will have no symptoms. Of those who get sick, most will have symptoms similar to flu – fever, chills, aches and nausea, Byers said.
“One in 150 people infected develop the severe neuro- invasive form of the disease,” Byers said. In these cases, people develop infections of the spine or brain or paralysis that can be life-threatening. Some require long-term rehab therapy to recover.
Because there’s been West Nile activity in 81 of 82 counties at some point since 2002, people should use repellent, avoid mosquitoes and drain standing water around homes and businesses whether there have been cases confirmed in their county or not.
“You want to take those precautions,” Byers said.