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Beyond Statistics: 2 Faces of West Nile Virus

Thousands Now Live With West Nile Virus Infection. Here, 2 Share Their Stories
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 31, 2012 -- This year, more than 1,500 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with West Nile virus infection and several have died.

Transmitted by the bite of a mosquito, the infection isn't equal opportunity.

West Nile Virus 2012

Read the latest news and information about the outbreak.

West Nile Virus Special Report

Some infected people don't notice any symptoms. Others have a milder form of the disease, known as West Nile fever. About 1 in 150 people infected develop severe complications, including infections of the brain (encephalitis) or spinal cord and connecting nerves (meningitis) or paralysis.

Rob Wagner Jr., 52, is a construction worker in Riverside County, Calif., near Los Angeles. He learned he had West Nile virus earlier this month.

Don R. Read, MD, is a Dallas surgeon who became infected in 2005 at age 63. He says he is still coming back from the complications, including paralysis.

Rob Wagner Jr.

Rob Wagner JrRob Wagner Jr., is a big guy who has worked construction most of his life. Most recently, he has been working as a glass glazer in Southern California.

In early August, he was hanging out at a friend's house in the city of Riverside, spending a lot of time in the backyard.

A lifelong mosquito magnet, he remembers being bitten but not thinking much about it. "I was getting bitten every night," he says.

One morning soon after, he woke up with a burning fever. "I was sweating like crazy," he says. The day before, he remembers feeling like he was coming down with something.

He was lagging at work. "I have to deal with measurements, stuff like that," Wagner says. "I was really slow, feeling incompetent in my measurements."

He had an excruciating headache. He says he's had those before, and they were linked with his high blood pressure. "It was like flu symptoms," he says.

"I had a friend take me to the emergency room." They told him the fever was 105 degrees.

"They started doing tests, taking blood. They did CT scans and MRI." He had two painful spinal taps, a typical test to check for meningitis, which doctors suspected.

Doctors admitted him to the hospital. They decided the diagnosis was bacterial meningitis and started him on antibiotics.

The pain was so bad the doctors put him on morphine.

The week he spent in the hospital was a nightmare, his sister, Pamela Vest, says. "A whole week, we couldn't even talk to him because he was so out of it."

"One morning he woke up crying," she says, "saying, 'What is wrong with me?' 'What is it?'"

When he improved some, he was released.

Then came the call from the Riverside County Department of Health. "It wasn't bacterial meningitis, it was West Nile virus," he says.

"I didn't know that much about it," he says. "I was still kind of out of it."

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