Man's death after mosquito bite inspires daughter's vaccine campaign

Four months after contracting a rare blood virus from a mosquito bite during a vacation in Thailand, Jillian Hughes’ father was dead.

'The effects of not getting the necessary shots can be devastating'

Retired Edmonton Fire Rescue Services captain died in May of 2016 after contracting a rare blood disease from a mosquito bite. (Supplied)

Bill Hughes was on vacation in Thailand when he was infected with Japanese encephalitis by a mosquito.

Within days he slipped into a coma, dying four months later. 

His daughter Jillian Hughes, is now sharing her father's story in the hopes it will encourage others Canadians to take the need for travel vaccinations more seriously.

"I think everyone has a responsibility," Hughes said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "You have a responsibility to yourself, to your family and to your community.

"The effects of not getting the necessary shots can be devastating."

In January 2016, Bill Hughes, a retired Edmonton Fire Rescue Services captain, contracted Japanese encephalitis, a disease with no known cure.

Hughes, an otherwise fit and healthy man who spent his time travelling and training for triathlons, slipped into a coma.  

He died on May 10, 2016, at 62.

Hughes's daughter Jillian is sharing her father's story in the hopes it will encourage others Canadians to take the need for travel vaccinations more seriously. (Supplied)

When Jillian Hughes arrived in Thailand after receiving news her father was ill, she had no idea how dire the situation had become.

By the time she arrived at his bedside, her father was comatose, in critical condition, battling a dangerously high fever.

"My dad had always been so healthy and it was shocking for me to show up and see the situation he was in. I was just really shocked to find him completely incapacitated."

The family scrambled to bring Hughes home to Edmonton for further treatment, raising thousands of dollars through a crowdfunding campaign for the medical transport.

He died only 10 days after arriving home.

It's just not worth it to skip out on anything.- Jillian Hughes

"Even though people might think there is a low risk for it, the downside, if you are one the people who gets it, is so damaging," Hughes said.

"Even the people who survive have debilitating problems for the rest of their life. It's just not worth it to skip out on anything."

Japanese encephalitis, found in pigs and birds, occurs mostly in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific islands.

According to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, most people infected with the virus do not develop symptoms.

However, a small percentage of infected people develop inflammation of the brain, with sudden onset of headache, high fever, disorientation, coma, tremors and convulsions.

The Canadian government lists Japanese encephalitis among seven specific "vaccines to consider" when travelling to Thailand.

Bill Hughes had travelled to Thailand numerous times and did get vaccinations, but his daughter doubts he was ever inoculated against encephalitis.

His daughter wonders if Hughes was ever made aware of his options. 

"I definitely wish we would have done the research and we would have understood the importance of the Japanese encephalitis shot," she said.

"I know that it's expensive and I know that it's also something that doctors don't necessarily say is needed unless you are visiting a farm or rural area."

'It's up to us' 

She hopes others will learn from her father's death. She doesn't want another family to lose a loved one to a preventable disease.

"We can't just rely on a doctor solely to tell us what we need," Hughes said.  

"It's up to us to really do the research and make sure we have everything we need. And it's better to have too many vaccinations than not enough."


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