8/23/02 - West Nile Testing

Another case of West Nile hits close to the Heartland. A 24-year-old woman in Buchanan County in Northwest Missouri tested positive for the virus.
So far, there have been several cases of West Nile in Heartland states, including three new cases in Illinois. Saint Francis Medical Center gets at least a dozen calls a day from people who want to be reassured about West Nile virus. And that doesn't even count the people who come into the emergency room with symptoms similar to West Nile, convinced they have the virus, and want to be tested for it.
Marcia Abernathy, ER Services Director at Saint Francis Medical Center says, "We've had a number of people come in with everything from rhinitis to headache thinking they have the West Nile virus." But so far, no one who has come into Saint Francis Medical Center's ER has tested positive for West Nile virus, even though several people thought they had it.
"The symptoms of West Nile are anything from feeling bad to a headache to just having general muscle aches," says Abernathy, "or a runny nose to joint aches which is like the cold or flu or just being overtired."
And Abernathy says they treat those symptoms and send them on their way, but they have tested a few people for the virus. "Medical facilities in this area cannot identify West Nile within their institutions, we have to send the blood out for analysis and that takes two weeks," Abernathy says.
And that's all they can do, Abernathy notes people won't find a quick answer in the ER. "They think we can provide answers immediately," Abernathy says. "We can give them emergency treatment, but not give a diagnosis and treat it." Abernathy adds that right now, the public's in high alert over West Nile, mostly due to how it's spread, by the bite of an infected mosquito. But that everyone shouldn't panic, just because you're sick, doesn't mean it's West Nile. "If their symptoms are unusual, like confusion or a severe headache, they would come into the ER anyway," Abernathy says.
Other Heartland hospitals are doing the same thing. If someone comes into their ER sick, the hospital treats their symptoms. But if they have reason to believe it may be West Nile, they take a blood sample, and send it to the state health department or to Mayo Clinic.