Councilwoman continues fight against viral illness


Staff writer

Federal Way City Councilwoman Mary Gates is down, but she’s not out.

Gates landed in intensive care at St. Francis Hospital early this month after contracting viral encephalitis. Doctors are still unsure how she got the disease.

Initially, she thought she had the flu, assistant city manager Derek Matheson said. She canceled a June 5 city tour and tried to rest. But she began to run a fever that quickly spiked to 105 degrees.

An emergency visit to the hospital turned into a three-week stay that knocked her out of commission and left her seat on the Federal Way City Council empty.

Gates also is on the Sound Transit board of directors. In addition, she represents Federal Way with the Association of Washington Cities and was named earlier this year to the National League of Cities’ finance committee.

She remained in intensive care for two weeks while family watched over her and friends and colleagues called regularly to check in. Last Thursday, she graduated out of intensive care into a private room.

While most serious viral encephalitis cases end in recovery, doctors sometimes don’t know whether the patient will live or die until they show signs of improvement.

Gates, who is now speaking to doctors, nurses and family members, “appears to be bouncing back and doing fine,” Matheson said.

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain usually caused by viral infection.

There are several strains of encephalitis, including West Nile Fever, which received national attention in 1999 after several people in and around New York became infected with the disease.

The most common encephalitis infections are caused by mosquitoes, which carry the virus from animals and can transmit it to humans.

Symptoms of viral encephalitis include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and lethargy. Most people infected with encephalitis think they simply have the flu and their symptoms and illness don’t get any worse.

But in a small percentage of people, the infection becomes severe. Symptoms of full-blown encephalitis can include behavioral and personality changes, sensitivity to light, vomiting, lethargy and reduced consciousness, seizures, memory loss, stiff neck and back, confusion and coma.

Additional motor disorders include severe general weakness, an inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements, tremor, partial paralysis, difficulty in hearing, seeing or speaking and difficulty swallowing.

The majority of encephalitis patients recover from the virus, but some have died from complications. In severe cases, brain swelling puts pressure on the brain stem, which controls the body’s vital functions, including breathing and heartbeat. If the pressure becomes great enough, those vital functions can be shut off and the person will die.

General precautions for preventing infection of viral encephalitis mainly involves controlling mosquito populations.

Areas where water can sit stagnant, like puddles, ponds, old tires or cans, should be eliminated. Bird bath water should be changed every three or four days, swimming pools cleaned and chlorinated and gutters cleared.

Insect repellents are useful in keeping mosquitoes away from people, and long-sleeved shirts and pants should be worn at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are out feeding.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and

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