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Bangor University lecturer critically ill after contracting virus in China

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Dr. Sophie Williams of Bangor University, a highly-respected conservation expert, is critically ill in a Bangkok hospital after becoming infected with Japanese encephalitis, a type of viral brain infection spread through mosquito bites, earlier this month on a research trip. 

The lecturer was on a trip to the Far East, undertaking botanical research with students from Bangor University 400 miles from the city of Kunming in China, when she began to feel unwell on 6th of July.
Dr Williams, 31, from North Yorkshire, complained of feeling very tired, headaches, and nausea before being found unconscious and taken to hospital.

Dr Williams’ father Mike, owner of Castlegate News in Yorkshire, has said family and friends were facing a nervous wait ahead of further news.

A spokesman for Bangor University said:

“Dr Sophie Williams, a lecturer in Conservation Science at Bangor University is currently in a critical condition after falling ill during a visit to China.

“After initial assessment and treatment in China, she was transferred to another hospital in Bangkok where she remains in a critical condition.

“The staff of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden as well as the health-care staff at the hospitals in Xishuangbanna and Bangkok have provided excellent care and support for Sophie and her family.
“In addition, the staff of the British Embassy and the insurance company have provided invaluable assistance.

“Sophie, a highly-respected and well-liked conservation expert, was working on the joint project between Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden and Bangor University’s Treborth Botanical Garden when she was taken ill.

“Together, both organisations are supporting Sophie’s family and we wish Sophie a rapid recovery.”

Sophie’s family and her partner have travelled out to Thailand to be with her during this time.

Staff and students from the university have created a book containing messages of support, photos, stories, and poems which will be sent out to her in Thailand. Well-wishers have also flooded the Facebook page of Drymbago, an amateur music band Dr Williams is a member of, with messages of support.

WHO map showing the countries or areas at risk of Japanese encephalitis

WHO map showing the countries or areas at risk of Japanese encephalitis

According to the NHS, Japanese encephalitis is most common in rural areas throughout South East Asia, the Pacific islands and the Far East. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that it accounts for approximately twenty thousand deaths each year and those that survive have a high risk of permanent neurological damage. The WHO also notes that there is no cure for the disease so treatment is focused on relieving severe clinical signs and supporting the patient to overcome the infection.

The virus is found in pigs and birds and is passed to mosquitoes that bite the infected animals. It cannot be spread from person to person.

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Ida Väisänen

Deputy Editor: Design 2014/15, TV Editor 2013/14

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