Muncie woman warns others about West Nile virus

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) – A central Indiana woman who was infected with the West Nile virus three years ago says she hopes others will learn from her troubles with the mosquito-borne disease.

Vicky Hammond, a 42-year-old pharmacy technician from Muncie, came down with a headache and a rash a couple of days after receiving two mosquito bites on her ankle in September 2012, shortly after it had rained and she spent time outside without using insect repellent. She eventually went to a clinic and underwent blood tests when the symptoms persisted.

Hammond ultimately was diagnosed with West Nile and was given medication to treat the symptoms she was feeling, because there aren’t any medications to treat the virus itself. She developed a rash from head to toe, fatigue and headaches, which occurred almost every day for a month.

“The headaches got worse and never really left until the end of December,” Hammond said. “I tried everything, including physical therapy. They gave me shots. I went into depression because of the constant aggravation. I hoped they’d be gone.”

Her doctor, William Sowers, told The (Muncie) Star Press that Hammond had a mild case of the West Nile virus.

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“She might argue that it was not mild, but she didn’t end up with seizures, hallucinations, jerking, stupor, coma or in ICU,” Sowers said. “There is a very broad spectrum of clinical presentations associated with this virus. The vast majority of people who are infected have no symptoms at all.”

About 20 percent of the people who are infected with West Nile will develop a fever with other symptoms like headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. The virus isn’t contagious and can only be transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

Hammond said she became concerned after state health officials confirmed the virus in mosquitoes trapped in the nearby community of Yorktown. She said she wanted to help make people aware of the signs and symptoms.

Although she now makes sure to wear mosquito repellent, burn citronella candles and torches and take other precautions, Hammond has been bitten again since she was infected with West Nile. The thought of becoming ill with the virus a second time “scares” her and makes her feel “really anxious,” she said.

“The good news is, in theory she should be immune to it,” Sowers said. “She has already fought it off and should have antibodies against it. But viruses can mutate.”

One death from West Nile virus has been confirmed in Indiana so far this year. None were reported in the state last year, while there were two in 2013 and eight in 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, 97 people died from the virus nationwide, including 31 deaths in California.