GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A bumper crop of mosquitoes in West Michigan is raising concerns about the threat of West Nile virus.
Michelle Dann of Grand Rapids knows first-hand how the mosquito-borne virus can turn a life upside down. She went from a 46-year-old who exercised five days a week last summer to frail, pain-wracked and unable to walk or talk. She was hospitalized for five weeks and missed three months of work.
“It was terrifying,” Dann told The Grand Rapids Press. “I was in such a state of shock.”
She urged others to use repellant and take steps to minimize the risk of mosquito bites.
“People are not afraid enough,” she told the newspaper. “There is just not enough awareness.”
Dann, a single mother of three children, knew nothing about West Nile before she became infected.
When the illness struck, she felt weak, fatigued and nauseous. A rash covered her. She also had tremors and headaches.
She went to the emergency room twice, but was told she had the flu and was sent home. It took a third visit.
A spinal tap showed she had meningitis and encephalitis — inflammation of the spinal cord and brain. She was hospitalized and the spinal fluid was sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for analysis. A week later, she was diagnosed with West Nile.
Dann believes she is “85 percent back” now. She still suffers from fatigue and her immune system is more susceptible to infections.
The neuroinvasive form of West Nile that Dann suffered from affects about 1 in 150 people infected with the virus, according to the CDC. It is more common in people with compromised immune systems or who are older than 50.
“I am a good example that it can happen to even the healthiest of people,” Dann said.