- DELTA, Colo. (AP) -- Nearly
a year after a red and swollen mosquito bite on her wrist signaled the
onset of West Nile virus, Jean Lemon still suffers from crippling bouts
- Her husband, Lowell, also caught the virus and must use
oxygen sometimes because he has trouble breathing. He rarely sleeps at
night because the virus intensified the pain he feels from arthritis.
- "It's been a real slog," said Jean Lemon, a
68-year-old retired dietitian who lives with her 74-year-old husband in
this western Colorado town. Even without a fever, she said, "we both
had feelings of being so hot, we'd be sitting still, drenched in sweat."
- The mosquito-borne virus, which has marched steadily
westward since the first domestic case turned up in New York in 1999, is
back for another season, carried afar by infected birds.
- While the virus has killed more than 560 people in the
United States over the past five years, it has left another trail of misery
across the country - survivors like the Lemons paralyzed or in searing
- "The infection goes away, but if there's severe
nerve damage only some of it - and sometimes none of it - is going to be
reversible over time," said Dr. Frank Judson, 62, director of the
Denver Public Health Department.
- Researchers say nearly 80 percent of people infected
with West Nile virus won't show any symptoms and most of the rest will
have only mild flu-like problems.
- About one in 150, however, will develop serious symptoms
that include high fever, convulsions and paralysis. A very few will die
from encephalitis or meningitis, both involving inflammations of the brain.
- Like the Lemons, many victims recover with symptoms that
don't go away. Others spend months in the hospital before returning home.
- Frank Boggs, 73, collapsed last August and was taken
to a hospital by his wife, Edith. He lay in a bed for months, paralyzed
and on a respirator, before going home in a wheelchair. He said he can't
remember three weeks of his life.
- "I have a caretaker who comes in every morning and
every night," Boggs said. "They exercise my arms and legs and
have me standing. It's kind of exciting when I stand. I figure in another
couple of months I'll be walking again."
- Judson, the Denver health official, said doctors many
times can do nothing but wait to see whether West Nile virus patients bounce
back from neurological damage.
- "If neurological function hasn't recovered by two
or three months, then the prospects aren't good," he said. "The
older you are, the more severe the disease. The longer the coma, the less
likely there's hope for major restoration of function."
- Others have succumbed after long, savage battles with
a disease that no one has figured out how to fight.
- Rick Derksen, 51, died in March after a seven-month struggle
against the disease, the last of 61 victims the virus claimed in Colorado
during the 2003 season.
- His daughter, Angie Murray, 26, remembers admonishing
her dad to use mosquito repellent. He was outside a lot in the summer,
umpiring softball games for the city of Longmont. "We were always
yelling at him to spray himself," Murray said. "He would say,
'I'm wearing pants and a long-sleeve shirt.'"
- Murray thinks that is why Derksen was reluctant to answer
when doctors asked him if he had been bitten by a mosquito after he ended
up in the hospital last August, sick and throwing up. He later owned up.
- Soon Derksen was paralyzed from the neck down, unable
to speak because he had to be on a respirator.
- "We had to learn how to lip read," Murray said.
"At the beginning it was hard. He would get real frustrated."
- Complicating matters, Derksen was on medication to suppress
his immune system because of a liver transplant a decade earlier. Doctors
stopped that medication to help boost his immune system to fight off the
complications of West Nile virus. He soon became susceptible to infections
in the hospital.
- Derksen later suffered brain damage, something his family
has blamed on the hospital. On March 24, Murray and other relatives made
the decision to halt his life support.
- "They unhooked him and he kind of opened his eyes,"
Murray said. "He fought so long to stay with us. It only took 10 minutes.
The doctor said his body was ready to go."
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