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As Placer sees 10th West Nile infection, one sufferer speaks out

By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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On Oct. 15, Placer County health authorities documented the area’s 10th human case of West Nile for 2012.

Meanwhile, a Granite Bay couple who tested positive for the disease are sharing how intuition and research helped identify the threat they were facing.

News that Placer County had found its 10th known human infection of West Nile virus was posted to the California Department of Public Health’s website Oct. 18, though the county’s mosquito and vector control district was notified by local health officials several days before.  

“Overall mosquito activity is decreasing as we get into October,” said Ada Barros of Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District, “but human cases lag behind the activity, so we did see this latest infection.”

According to Barros, testing of local mosquito populations in the second week of October yielded only one sample of insects carrying the virus. Similar testing in the third week of October found no samples.

However, for Debra and Roger Linn of Granite Bay, no amount of precaution is too much when there’s a chance to contract the virus. The Linns know firsthand about suffering from West Nile. While hiking on a trail in Forresthill in late September, the Linns were both infected by mosquitoes. The trail they were venturing down descended to the river. Debra Linn remembers the day being warm and muggy, though she never consciously knew she’d been bitten.

Three days later, the Linns began to feel the first symptoms of illness: Both had muscle pain and were extremely tired. Debra Linn felt serious pain behind her eyes.

“My skin hurt,” she said. “It felt like my nerves were edgy and it was uncomfortable to touch things.”

She soon developed a rash across her arm and found she had severely swollen lymph nodes.

The Linns went to their regular doctor and were told they had an unknown virus that would eventually go away. Unsatisfied with the vagueness of the diagnosis, Debra Linn went home and began to do extensive research online. She was eventually convinced that all of her symptoms matched West Nile virus. She returned to her doctor’s office and insisted on having a test performed specific to West Nile.

“I felt like they were rolling their eyes at me,” Debra Linn said of the office staff. “And they were totally surprised when both my husband and I came back positive for West Nile virus. I was logged as a positive case for Placer County.”

Despite the diagnosis, the only treatment available to the Linns was rest, drinking lots of fluids and taking Tylenol — though the revelation allowed them to be on the look-out for signs of the more devastating evolutions of West Nile virus, including the attacking of the brain and spinal chord by meningitis.

Debra Linn’s recovery took weeks. Only now is the overwhelming fatigue starting to subside.

Today, the Linns’ message is simple.

“Always wear mosquito protection,” Debra Linn said. “And be proactive with your health care: You really have to pay attention to your own symptoms. If you’re not comfortable with how your doctor is looking into something then be clear on what would make you comfortable, or give you piece of mind — or get a second opinion.”

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at scotta@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at ScottA_RsvPT.