West Nile Virus survivor shares her story

Local News

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — A central Illinois woman who got West Nile virus is sharing a message to warn others about the dangers. 

Beth Swigart is one of 176 people in the state who contracted it last year. She spent more than three weeks in the hospital recovering. West Nile is potential deadly and there is no cure. People older than 50 are at an even higher risk of getting severe illness from it. 

Swigart says, “I had a rash on my body, on my chest and my arms. I just thought it was nothing. I put Benadryl on it and thought it would go away.” 

Days later the flu symptoms kicked in. Then it quickly got worse. She says, “I was delirious. I was so disoriented and I didn’t know what was going on. I drove across the railroad tracks and hit an electricity pole, knocked it over and don’t remember it at all.” 

Her family took her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with a severe case of the virus. She says, “I had encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. That’s why I blacked out the first three or four days. I couldn’t remember anything.” 

She had to get speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy. She also couldn’t work for three months. 

Jim Roberts, the environmental health director at Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, says Swigart’s case is uncommon. He says, “People can be bitten by an infected mosquito but about 4 out of 5 people aren’t affected at all. 20% develop some kind of symptoms and a very small amount develop some very serious symptoms.”

In the worst cases it can be debilitating, affecting body movement and brain function. That’s why Roberts and his research team trap and collect mosquitos to test for West Nile and track it in Champaign County. He says there are some tips to avoid the virus: Look for stagnant water that collects in areas around your home, even in uncommon places like corrugated drains.

It’s best to avoid being out during the hours of dusk and dawn when mosquitos come out in masses. Roberts says, “Wear protective clothing, long sleeves, long pants and socks. Also use EPA registered insect repellant.”  

The C-U Public Health District posts the level of mosquito activity in the area. Click here to see that information. 

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