Bite has big consequences

North Texans face blistering heat, violent thunderstorms, baseball-sized hail and maybe even a tornado or two in this region. Yet severe weather isn’t the only threat to the population. West Nile virus can strike just as unexpectedly, courtesy of a pesky mosquito. Just ask Flower Mound resident Rhonda Petty.

Petty, who lives in the Oaks of Lake Forest subdivision near Wellington, was diagnosed with West Nile neuroinvasive disease, a strain of the virus which affects less than one percent of West Nile virus cases. It’s the most severe form of the virus…and is the second such case reported in Flower Mound this past week.

Petty experienced symptoms for over a month before being diagnosed. The symptoms ranged from lower back pain, aching limbs and worsening headaches to heart palpitations, shortness of breath, frequent urination, gastrointestinal distress, swollen lymph glands, disorientation and extreme fatigue.

Sounds like a side effect listing in a prescription drug commercial but with all the symptoms, Petty still believed her condition was due to the flu, a urinary tract infection, advancing age—anything but West Nile virus. Unfortunately, the symptoms worsened.

“I was so fatigued I would sit down and nod off,” Petty said. “I also woke up once during the middle of the night and was so confused I didn’t know where I was.”

That experience and a rising fever prompted her to visit the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Flower Mound. The doctors determined she suffered from a case of pneumonia, but also noticed what Petty described as red dots made by a pen on her hand and arm. She was tested for the virus which resulted positive.

“The ER doctor that treated me probably saved my life,” Petty said. “That hospital provided excellent care and has an excellent staff.”

She considers herself lucky because as her family doctor told her, she could have developed a more severe case resulting in becoming wheelchair-bound. The doctor encouraged her to seek out a West Nile virus support group to connect her with a specialist. Currently, no vaccine exists, and Petty’s doctor told her a long, hard recovery awaits with some symptoms potentially lasting over a year.

Last year, Denton County had the highest rate of West Nile virus in the U.S., with 184 cases and two deaths reported.  Although there have only been three human cases reported so far this year, local authorities are not taking any chances.

Several municipalities have conducted evening pesticide sprayings to combat mosquitoes this summer. In addition, many mosquito repellent options exist, from spray-on and citronella candles to newer items like treated plastic wristbands and butane-fueled devices to clip on a belt which emit an airborne form of repellent. Avoiding areas with stagnant water (either outdoors or a slow-evaporating pool of rainwater in a yard or parking lot) is also encouraged.

In any case, awareness and precaution are essential to help prevent contraction of West Nile virus. 

“People need to know about this and take precautions,” Petty said. “I’m not an outside person, and I got it.”


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