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Health investigators reveal mystery illness in Snowville

By CALVIN PYNN

calvin@southwesttimes.com

The illness that hospitalized the Simpkins family in Snowville last week, and killed two of their members, has been identified by health officials, although it was not hantavirus, as previously suspected.

A rare combination of influenza B and strep A caused Julie Simpkins and her 14-year-old daughter, Ginger Simpkins to lose their lives last Friday, April 25. Both illnesses, which are normally known as the flu and strep throat, are common and treatable.

New River Health District Director Molly O’Dell and Infectious Disease Department Chief Tom Kerkering announced the test results in a press teleconference Wednesday evening.

According to O’Dell neither illness could be considered a cause for concern individually. If combined in a rare instance, however, strep throat and influenza can be very severe.

“This type of co-infection is exceedingly rare, and it doesn’t appear to pose a threat to the community at large,” O’Dell said. “We know flu and strep continue to circulate in the New River Valley this time of year.”

Doctors have not currently identified anyone else in the region who has been co-infected, according to O’Dell.

“Strep can be treated with antibiotics and flu can be prevented with a flu vaccine,” O’Dell said. “It isn’t too late to be vaccinated for flu.”

O’Dell also said in the teleconference that all five Simpkins family members had not been recently vaccinated for the flu.

Each family member tested positive for the flu and showed symptoms of strep. It is impossible to determine where they picked up the illnesses, or if they were contracted simultaneously.

In a release from the Virginia Department of Health, Public Information Officer Robert Parker said anyone with a sore throat, cough or body aches should contact their health care provider to discuss treatment. As with any other illness, anyone with those symptoms should stay home if sick.

The test results reported Wednesday evening do not constitute a finding for cause of death. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will officially determine the cause of death, which is still pending.

Julie and Ginger Simpkins died two weeks after cleaning out a vacant mobile home on the family’s property. The father, Tim Simpkins, his two younger children, and Ginger’s boyfriend were hospitalized as well, and released last Sunday.

A memorial service for Julie and Ginger Simpkins will be held this Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Snowville Baptist Church. A candlelight vigil will be held the night before at 8 p.m. in Jackson Park.

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