OGDEN — Weber County’s first reported case of West Nile virus will soon embark on a lengthy road to rehabilitation after a stint at Mckay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.
Gina Vodopich said her son, Ryan Stuart, was a perfectly healthy 37-year-old who enjoyed grilling and working in the yard of the new home he recently bought in Ogden.
That is until a few weeks ago when he called his mother to tell her he was sick.
Vodopich said Stuart complained of neck pain and a “debilitating headache,” but it was not until the sixth day of his illness that she received a phone call that worried her.
She said her son was incoherent on the phone, and when she arrived at his house “he’s collapsed in his yard, he’s laying on the ground, he’s immobile.”
Stuart has been diagnosed with a rare case of West Nile virus, contracted through infected mosquitoes, that develops into a neuroinvasive disease.
Tuesday marked Stuart’s ninth day in the hospital, most of which he has spent in intensive care. After he is released, he faces months of rehabilitation, and the full impact of the virus on his nervous system is still unknown.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though most people affected (1 in 8) do not present symptoms, 1 in every 150 cases of the virus develops into a neuroinvasive condition like Stuart’s. Out of those affected, 1 in 5 will present with more mild symptoms such as a fever and body aches.
According to the Utah Department of Health, this year the state has seen 11 reported cases of the virus, six of which have developed into a neuroinvasive disease that can be fatal. The department reports that those 60 or older or those suffering from certain diseases are more prone to developing more serious forms of the virus.
Though fortunately this year Utah has yet to experience a West Nile virus fatality, 2018 saw one victim succumb to the virus and in 2017 six people died from it.
Multiple counties across the state are reporting mosquito populations carrying West Nile virus, including Uintah, Duchesne, Box Elder, Davis, Weber, Washington, Salt Lake, Cache and Utah counties. The Utah Department of Health reports 162 total West Nile positive mosquito pools across the state for 2019.
Because there are no vaccines or treatments for West Nile virus, early detection will not help contain the virus. However, Amy Carter, a public health nurse at the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said “if you experiencing high fever we encourage you to visit your doctor.” She added that medical centers can offer “supportive therapy.”
She said those who survive neuroinvasive forms of the disease can make a full or partial recovery, sometimes including some permanent loss of motor function due to effects on the nervous system.
Vodopich said after her son is released from the hospital, they expect rehabilitation to last until the beginning of next year. She noted that though his condition has stabilized, his brain is still swollen and he is in and out of consciousness.
Her son is “hanging in there” and “making baby steps,” she said. He is saying about 10 words per day, although many are inaudible or incomprehensible.
Vodopich said her son was about to start a new job when he got sick, and she has not yet been able to contact his employers or find out if he is currently insured. Her life, she said, came “to a screeching halt” after her son fell ill.
Because it can take from two to 14 days for symptoms to manifest once someone has contracted West Nile virus, she said she doesn't know when or where her son was bitten, but that he had not left Ogden.
“For this not to have happened, it could have taken a 30-second procedure of spraying on the right kind of mosquito repellant,” she emphasized.
Carter echoed the sentiment, advising Utahns to wear mosquito repellant that lists EPA approval and contains deet.
The Utah Department of Health also advises residents to avoid unnecessary outdoor activity during times mosquitoes are most active (dawn, dusk and early evening) and to drain sources of stagnant water in yards.
She said out of states affected, “Utah gets to be a lower risk state,” and noted that she attributes this in part to public education and in part to effective abatement.
For more information about the virus, visit cdc.gov/westnile.