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Walking in the Foothills, She Caught the West Nile Virus

Former Montrose resident Sue Bicknell enjoyed walking in the foothills until she developed flu-like symptoms her doctor said were caused by the West Nile Virus.

Climbing the Crescenta Valley inclines at morning or dusk in the summers was a normal activity for Sue Bicknell, a former Montrose resident, who contracted West Nile Virus in 2004. 

Bicknell is one of 779 human cases of the mosquito-borne disease in 2004. Seven human cases of the virus have been reported in California in 2012, according to the California Department of Public Health. In June, a dead crow found in Sierra Madre, about 15 miles from Montrose-La Crescenta, . 

According to Bicknell, she could have contracted the virus during one of her walks around town. 

"I was living in Montrose at the time. I don’t really know [how it happened]. I was doing a lot of walking, but usually in the morning. But I do remember, maybe a few times, I was kind of walking at dusk, but never noticed that I got a bite or anything," Bicknell told Patch. 

West Nile Virus was originally discovered in Africa, according to California health officials. The disease was detected in eastern United States in 1999 and since has spread throughout the U.S. and in most states, including California. 

From 2003 to 2011, the California Department of Public Health recorded 3,146 cases of people infected with West Nile Virus, 110 additional people died from the disease during those eight years. 

Symptoms for Bicknell started with feeling like she had a flu and in August 2004 she started hearing about WNV. She was working from home and was able to manage her symptoms by staying indoors and taking it easy.

"I kept thinking I’m going to get better. One night my arms would ach or next day my legs would ache," she said. 

Bicknell decided to travel, despite her symptoms. 

"I went on this trip to Catalina over on the boat and we slept at Camp Fox outside… the next morning my lymph nodes in the back of my head were really sore. I just knew I was really sick," she said. 

She left on a boat, went home and told the doctor her symptoms. 

"I said, 'You know, could this be the West Nile Virus. The doctor said, 'No,'" Bicknell said. 

She took antibiotics for several weeks until the doctor called. 

"She said, 'You’re never going to believe this but the results came back that you do have or did have West Nile Virus. I guess it takes a long time and they had to send the results away to a laboratory."

The County Board of Health followed up with Bicknell and create a report.  

"They said, 'You know you’re the only reported case up in that foothills area,'" she said. 

Officials asked her not to give blood for a year, but she still didn't know where or how she could have contracted the virus. 

"They said mosquitos and clearly I was outside a lot. I was outside at least two hours a day walking through the foothills in neighborhoods and what not," Bicknell said. 

"Since I had not been exerting myself for two weeks, I was just kind of maintaining—but the exertion of going on this trip and the boat ride and going outdoors, that exasperated the whole thing. What I learned is that most people don’t have any noticeable symptoms," she said. 

Bicknell lived in Montrose from 2004 to 2007. She now lives in Walla Walla, WA. 

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