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West Nile Virus Should Have Little Effect On BC Campus

Students Are At A Relatively Low Risk For Infection, Despite Attention From The Media

Heights Editor

Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Both Newton and Boston have been classified as areas of “high” threat for the West Nile Virus by their cities’ health departments, prompting University Health officials to raise awareness of the illness and urge students to take appropriate precautions.

West Nile is a mosquito-borne disease, usually contracted through a bite from an infected mosquito. All Boston College students received an email on Aug. 31 warning them of the disease and advising them to wear long sleeves, long pants, and insect repellant when outdoors, especially at dusk, as well as to attempt to eliminate areas of standing water, a common breeding place for mosquitos. Health Services also ensured that cans of bug spray were available at the freshman barbeque, which took place around dusk.

Despite the amount of attention paid to the disease by national, state, and University health officials, Thomas Nary, director of University Health Services, assured that the virus is not a real danger. “Most cases of people that have West Nile are either asymptomatic, meaning they don’t even know they have it … or, conversely, they have flu-like symptoms, and then, you know, it goes away.”  
Nary also commented on the fact that, as is the case for many other illnesses, once a person has West Nile, they are immune for life. “There are probably lots of students on this campus that didn’t even know that they have ever been infected with West Nile, that are immune,” Nary said.

When asked if any students had come into Health Services yet this year clearly affected by West Nile, Nary replied, “No, not even close.”
University Health Services decided to send out the email alerting students of West Nile in large part to allay anxiety that may have resulted from media coverage of the disease. Health Services felt it was responsible to comment on the virus after media reports of the “high threat level” in the Boston area most likely brought it to the attention of students and parents in the BC community. The email also served as a way to suggest simple precautions students could take to lower their chances of contracting the disease.

The email cited a description of West Nile Virus from the Massachusetts department of Public Heath, including the fact that in most cases of WNV, no symptoms occur.

University Health Services takes great care in deciding to send out an email warning students about a disease. The two main factors to take into account about a disease are frequency and severity, Nary said. If a great number of students are getting sick, or if more than usual are contracting a serious disease, Health Services will say something. They are also careful to not send out too many of these emails, however, for fear that students will more readily disregard them and as a result not pay attention when a real threat arises.

Nary acknowledged that many students seemed to have disregarded the email about West Nile as well. “By the way, I looked into the students’ stands at the [first football] game. I didn’t see anyone all wrapped up, so I guess they didn’t really listen to me.” He concluded, laughing, “Maybe they all had bug spray that I just didn’t see.”

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