One of the few fatal cases of West Nile virus ever confirmed in Sarnia-Lambton went undiagnosed for a month, the family of the victim says.
Linda White, 71, died of the mosquito-borne virus on March 23.
“It was just like the flu,” daughter Beth Squire told The Journal. “They did tests, they couldn’t find anything… It blew them away that they didn’t know what was wrong. She was totally healthy and (then) she couldn’t even walk.”
West Nile virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. The great majority of people infected with West Nile virus do not get sick, and those who do usually experience mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, skin rash or muscle aches, says Lambton Public Health.
Less than 1% of people infected with the virus become seriously ill, and it can take weeks for the symptoms to appear, health officials say.
It’s believed an infected mosquito bit White in late August of 2018. She was trying to quit smoking at the time and assumed her symptoms were related to nicotine withdrawal, said Squire.
She visited Bluewater Health in Petrolia on Labour Day weekend last year. Doctors gave her fluids and suspected influenza, she said.
But the next day, White was so weak she couldn’t get off the couch. Squire called 911 and her mother was rushed to hospital and admitted. She never went home again.
Ultrasounds, CT scans and blood tests found nothing conclusive, Squire said. White was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Bluewater Health in Sarnia, no longer able to eat or breathe on her own.
She was transferred her to London. There, physicians suspected White might have meningitis and performed an invasive procedure to extract fluid from her lower spine.
That test confirmed West Nile virus, said Squire. “We went a month without a diagnosis.”
White spent the next six months in hospital. Squire, a nurse, said there is no vaccine or cure for West Nile, and had doctors known what was making her mother sick the treatment would have been the same.
Sarnia-born Linda White was a hard-working woman who always took care of the people around her. She was passionate about horses and agriculture, loved line dancing, and spent much of her free time with her grandsons and great grandsons, her daughter said.
Doctors said her death from West Nile was “one in a million,” she added.
“You can get it and it can be like the flu. And you may not even go to the doctor. They won’t even test you because they think it’s the flu.”
The virus attacked White’s spine and brain resulting in partial paralysis. Though her health improved a bit early this year it was short-lived.
Squire said she believes people aren’t paying enough attention to West Nile virus and the mosquitoes that spread it. But she also believes physicians in Sarnia and London did everything they could to help her mother.
“I thought the doctors took really excellent care of my mom. They did everything, they took every test, they gave her every antibiotic, but nothing seemed to help,” she said.
“Maybe there’s not enough research.”
A mosquito trap in Petrolia tested positive for West Nile on Aug. 28, but no human cases have been detected in Sarnia-Lambton so far this year.
In Ontario, as of Oct. 19, 14 confirmed or probably human cases were reported. In 2018, Ontario had 137 human cases.