A UC Berkeley student has been diagnosed with West Nile virus in the wake of this year’s uptick in the number of mosquitoes carrying the disease.
UC Berkeley freshman Abigail Murphy has West Nile viral meningitis, a severe form of the virus that causes the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord to be inflamed. Mosquitoes transmit the virus to humans, which can cause symptoms ranging from fevers to stronger reactions like meningitis, according to Fenyong Liu, campus professor of public health.
Murphy started experiencing symptoms about three weeks ago. She developed a rash on her arms that she attributed to her allergies and then began having neck pain, which she thought was from a recent bike accident.
Murphy said she went to the emergency room after throwing up and passing out on BART, but doctors thought she had whiplash. Later, she was diagnosed with meningitis and tested positive for West Nile virus.
“If I push myself or I walk too much, I get a really bad headache and I get nauseous, so I have to sit down and rest a lot,” Murphy said. “I’ve been sitting on the couch for two weeks, which isn’t like me. I was training for a triathlon when I got into the bike accident.”
Five people contracted West Nile virus in Santa Clara County this year, according to the county Vector Control community resources specialist Jose Colome. According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been no reported cases of West Nile virus in Alameda County since two cases of the virus were reported in 2012.
“We really need to inform the public because it is considered an emerging infectious disease,” Liu said. “It was only introduced to the U.S. 15 years ago, so not a lot of people are aware of the virus.”
West Nile virus replicates faster in mosquitos’ bodies in warmer weather because mosquitoes are cold-blooded, said Chindi Peavey, district manager at the Alameda County Mosquito Abatement District.
Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville are at lower risk for the virus because of their cooler weather, according to Daniel Wilson, community relations coordinator for the Alameda County Vector Control Services District.
The spread of West Nile virus is monitored by testing dead birds for the virus. According to Wilson, birds infected with the virus spread it to more mosquitoes. Because of this year’s increase in the number of infected dead birds, Livermore, among other cities, have been sprayed to kill mosquitoes and mosquito larvae.
Meanwhile, Murphy said she is taking the illness day by day. She hasn’t contacted UC Berkeley about taking next semester off but anticipates that she will have to do so, because doctors told her that her condition could last several months.