By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Woman coping with West Nile Virus 16 years later
AP LOGO 3.jpg

MCCOOK, Neb. (AP) — Sheri Ord hopes she killed the mosquito responsible for her battle with West Nile disease.

“One stupid mosquito.” Sheri recently told the McCook Daily Gazette. “Little booger anyway.”

Sheri doesn’t know which mosquito was responsible for her contracting West Nile fever, so she really has no idea if she killed that one particular mosquito. She says, “I don’t know that I did, but I sure hope I swatted him and killed him.”

Everyone’s summertime mantra should be: “Sun screen bug spray.”

“Sun screen bug spray.”

“Sun screen bug spray.”

Sun screen to help prevent skin damage and cancer. Bug spray to help prevent bites from mosquitos carrying the West Nile virus.

Sheri Ord of McCook had no idea the battle ahead of her when she was bitten by a mosquito in August 2003. “I don’t spend a lot of time outside,” she said. “But I guess I was just outside at the wrong time.”

Sheri’s first symptoms were fatigue, light-headedness and a rash. She went to the doctor, who thought it might be West Nile fever, but testing for West Nile wasn’t routine at that time, and normally the symptoms went away on their own.

“West Nile symptoms are so similar to symptoms of the flu,” Sheri said. “More people have had it (West Nile) than realize it. Most don’t get it as bad as I did.”

Following the onset of flu-like symptoms, a really bad pain started in Sheri’s right leg, and it only got worse. Doctors performed an MRI, and Sheri spent five days in the hospital in McCook. When she could no longer walk, she was transported to Methodist Hospital in Omaha.

Sheri wasn’t aware of much that went on in the Omaha hospital because of the level of pain medication. “They tried to keep the pain in my legs under control, to prevent nerve damage,” Sheri said.

As the pain eventually subsided, Sheri underwent physical therapy in Omaha and continued when she returned home.

“I came home using a wheelchair,” Sheri said. She continued therapy, three times a week for six months. “That helped immensely, and I progressed to a walker, and then to a brace on my right leg,” she said.

Sixteen years later, Sheri still wears the brace on her right leg, and, because of nerve damage, she still has a “foot drop” that affects her balance and the strength of her foot. The circulation in her foot is poor because of damaged nerves.

“West Nile slows you down, it sets you back,” Sheri said. “It’s not as easy to do the things you used to do. I’ve learned to get along.”

Sheri said she still doesn’t spend a lot of time outside. She and her husband, Kevin, sit on their deck with coffee, but if the mosquitos are bad, they move inside.

“I use ‘Off’ bug spray if I know I’ve going to be outside for a long period of time,” she said.

There’s not a lot that Sheri could have done differently. There’s a vaccination against West Nile for horses, but not for people, Sheri said.

Sixteen years ago, West Nile virus and fever weren’t the talk of the town; there wasn’t the big push to protect from mosquito bites. Sheri was 50 years old at the time, healthy, active and working. “It was nothing more than flu symptoms to begin with being tired and achey,” she said. “Most cases won’t get as bad as mine did,” she said.

For most, then and even now, the fever does not progress as virulently as it did for Sheri.

“I’m so grateful that I am walking,” Sheri said. “There are some who were affected at the same time as I was, and they’re still in wheelchairs.”

Sheri hopes she is now immune to West Nile fever.

Health experts do say that like with many other viruses, medical tests indicate that once a person has been infected with West Nile, he/she develops a natural immunity to that virus and future infection.

However, this immunity may decrease over time or with further health conditions that compromise the immune system.

West Nile fever is an infection cause by the West Nile virus, which is typically spread by mosquitos that have fed on infected birds which carry the disease.

About 80% of those infected with West Nile virus show no symptoms, and go unreported.

About 19% of infected people develop symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting or a rash, all that can vary widely in severity. One percent of people develop encephalitis or meningitis, with associated neck stiffness, confusion and/or seizures.

Recovery for those with severe symptoms may take weeks to months.

Symptoms manifest themselves usually in 3 to 14 days after being bitten, and most people recover completely. Sometimes fatigue and weakness last for weeks or months.

Most human cases of West Nile occur in late summer and fall; people over 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease. Keep babies, toddlers and young children safe from bites, and keep a close eye on those who have been bitten.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the most effective way to prevent West Nile disease is to prevent bites by mosquitos that are passing along the virus they picked up from infected birds.

Especially this summer, flooded areas, heavily wooded yards or any habitat continually damp from frequent and/or heavy rains make perfect habitat for happy mosquito mating. Eliminating these areas can result in fewer of the pesky critters.

Restrict outdoor activities when mosquitos are most active: Starting in early May until the first hard frost; and between dusk and dawn, but know that mosquitos will bite anytime during the day and night.

Use an insect repellent that contains DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus on exposed skin, the outside of clothing and any carried gear.

Wear shoes (not sandals), socks that extend up the leg, long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

Install or fix screens on windows and doors. Keep doors and windows shut, especially at night.

According to the American Mosquito Control Association, a running house fan can help keep mosquitos away from people because mosquitos are weak fliers.

There is no specific treatment for West Nile fever, so, remember — Sun screen bug spray. Sun screen bug spray. Sun screen bug spray.