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The heavy precipitation much of the country has been experiencing for the last several months has created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes - and the deadly West Nile virus they carry.
Dan Scanlon can be excused if he's a little nervous now. The 78-year-old mayor of Morton Grove, Ill., was bitten last year by a mosquito and it changed his life -- for the worse.
It was August. Scanlon and his wife of 52 years were at an outdoor political event when he suddenly fell ill. He doesn't even remember being bitten by a mosquito, but that's what happened.
"One of them bit me, and one of them bit my wife," he said.
"About 24 hours later, she got the same kind of symptoms and ended up in the hospital. And never came out."
The Scanlons were bitten by a mosquito carrying the West Nile Virus. It killed 284 people last year in this country and spread to 44 states. Now a widower, Scanlon is a shadow of his former self. He lost 80 pounds in the hospital alone.
"My whole left side wound up paralyzed," he said recently from his home. "My right arm was paralyzed [too]."
Scanlon must use a wheelchair now and has regular physical therapy sessions to try to get him back on his feet.
"People still can't believe it," said Scanlon. "They say, 'A mosquito did that to you, Dan?' And I say, 'Well, evidently so.' "
Now, as the weather warms up, Scanlon worries about what the day will bring. He wonders if venturing outside will tempt fate -- and the mosquitoes -- again.
Perfect Weather -- for Mosquitoes
Parts of this country have had an incredibly wet spring. Atlanta has received more than a foot of rain just since May 1. The Northeast has been deluged. The Midwest has been as soggy as a mop and there are severe storms ahead for the Great Plains this weekend.
Cases of West Nile virus have been reported in 24 states so far this year. And while there have been no fatalities, it can cause severe neurological problems, especially among the very young or very old. Last year 3,300 people were affected neurologically.
Doctors say the virus can mimic other illnesses, such as polio or Parkinson's disease, making a quick diagnosis difficult.
At the YMCA's Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, Ind., officials have inaugurated an aggressive anti-mosquito policy, spraying the bugs and poisoning their larvae. "Really, at the end of last summer, we started thinking about what are we going to do for next year," said camp director Dave Wright, "because it'll probably be worse."
So even though they've never had much of a mosquito problem here along the banks of the Tippecanoe River, the misting machine is cranked up at least once every two weeks to douse the foliage and keep the bugs at bay.
"We knew that the most precious thing that parents have are their kids," said Wright.
The federal government has rushed a new blood-screening test to blood banks nationwide. The test will spot any West Nile virus in donated blood. Last year it was discovered that transfusions of blood from infected people were a source of spreading the virus, as well as organ transplants.
Currently, researchers are at work on a vaccine, but it won't be ready until the end of the year at the earliest. By then, the mosquito season for 2003 will be history. Just about everybody is hoping that as far as it relates to West Nile virus, it will not prove to be historic.
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