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Death of Upper St. Clair woman raises concerns about West Nile virus

Thursday, August 22, 2002

By Dan Gigler, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A 42-year-old Upper St. Clair woman died yesterday morning after falling ill following a weekend camping trip, prompting concerns that she may have been infected with the West Nile virus.

Pearl Simmons

According to reports from the Allegheny County coroner's office, Pearl Simmons camped with her son in an undisclosed location and returned to Pittsburgh Sunday evening.

She checked into Allegheny General Hospital at 6 a.m. yesterday and died at 11:24 a.m. Reports stated that she complained of flu-like symptoms, then went into septic shock before her organs shut down.

The Allegheny County Health Department has been notified and will test for the presence of the virus. The cause of death is pending the results of an autopsy.

Guillermo Cole, a spokesman for the Health Department, would not confirm that Simmons was the patient involved but did confirm that the department had been notified by the coroner's office of a death yesterday which had been the result of an "overwhelming infection" and symptoms which were consistent with West Nile. But he said those symptoms can be attributed to any number of infectious agents.

"We're not ruling anything out, but we're not ruling anything in, either. We aren't labeling it as a suspected case or probable case -- we'll wait and see what the tests say," Cole said.

Testing for the disease requires drawing blood and spinal fluid, which has to be sent to a state-run laboratory in Harrisburg. Cole said that test results likely would not be ready until at least Monday.

Cole said that less the 1 percent of the people infected with the West Nile virus by mosquitoes would require hospitalization and that thus far, no humans in Pennsylvania have contracted the disease.

Dan Gigler can be reached at dgigler@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.

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