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COLUMBIANA COUNTY Woman says doctor diagnosed her with West Nile virus



Published: Wed, August 14, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Her symptoms have not kept her from work or tending her flowers.

By NANCY TULLIS

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

COLUMBIANA -- What may be the first instance of West Nile virus in a human in Ohio has been found in a Columbiana County woman.

Jean Shellenbarger, 44, of state Route 517, said her doctor confirmed Tuesday that she has West Nile virus.

Dr. Emil Dickstein of Austintown said Shellenbarger's case is the first human case of West Nile in Ohio. He said he was sending the information to the Columbiana County Health Department.

Robert Morehead, county health commissioner, could not be reached to comment, and Barbara Knee, nursing director, said only that the Ohio Department of Health has not confirmed any human cases in Ohio.

The disease can be deadly to older adults and those with weakened immune systems. It is transmitted to humans through infected mosquitoes. Mild cases of West Nile virus include body aches, skin rashes, fever and headaches. More-severe cases can cause disorientation, neck stiffness, tremors and possibly coma.

Shellenbarger has several gardens of flowers and herbs around her Fairfield Township home that she tends faithfully despite evening swarms of mosquitoes.

She is bitten frequently as she spends nearly every moment after work in her gardens.

Shellenbarger said the results of blood tests taken Aug. 6 showed that at the time of the test she'd had the virus about a week. She is still treating a rash and has a headache.

Started with a rash

About Aug. 1, she began getting a rash around her waist and on her buttocks that spread up to her neck on both her chest and her back.

By Aug. 3, one side of her neck was sore and she became dizzy when she turned her head. On Aug. 6, she decided to make a doctor's appointment after waking up with chest pains.

Shellenbarger had the blood test and has since been treating the rash. She said she did not become seriously ill, and none of the symptoms -- not even the severe itching from the rash -- kept her from work at Glenellen Senior Suites and Villas in North Lima, where she is a cook.

She said there is no treatment for the virus itself; "you just have to wait it out."

She told worried co-workers she is "too tough to die".

Shellenbarger takes flowers from her gardens each day for the tables in the dining room at Glenellen, and the nursing home's activities director occasionally takes some of the residents to see her gardens.

She said watering the trees and new plants during the summer drought is what has kept her outside when the mosquitoes are most plentiful and least merciful.

Shellenbarger said mosquitoes are at their worst about 9 to 11 p.m., the best time to water her trees and plants.

Won't be bugged

"I'm out there, and the mosquitoes are chewing up my legs, but I try to ignore them," she said. "I still go out there then because I don't want to lose my new plants and trees to the drought."

Sometimes she uses a mosquito repellent, she said, but often doesn't take the time to apply it because she is trying to do as much as possible before the sun goes down.

"I've been reading all the stories, but I didn't worry too much, she said. "I'm not going to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when it's 90 [degrees] or more out here.

"There's Lyme disease from ticks, and all kinds of things you can get out here," she said. "West Nile is just another of those things, the 'creeping crud' that's out here, and I'm not going to let all that dictate how I live my life.

"This is what I do. I love it here. This is my paradise, my piece of heaven on earth."

tullis@vindy.com




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