Family of four contracts West Nile virus– and their lives changed forever

Local News

The warmer, wetter weather is bringing along something we don’t like– mosquitoes.

We spoke to an expert who says you may be at a greater risk of getting bitten than you may realize, and share the unique story of a family who all contracted West Nile and ways you can protect yourself.

The odds of becoming seriously ill after contracting West Nile Virus are about 1 in 150.

The time of day you’re outside, what you’re wearing and even your blood type can make you more at risk.

“There’s different proteins in the saliva. When they bite you, certain ones interact with the different types of blood in a different way. If you have a Type ‘O’ blood, it says that you could be at twice as likely more to be bitten than some of the other blood types in that area,” said Travis Prochaska, crop protection specialist, NDSU Research Extension Center.

And how your body reacts to the bite, can be completely different to how I react.

“Some people get more redness, sometimes it swells, sometimes you almost get this welt that develops. That is an allergic reaction to the protein found within the saliva,” Prochaska said.

If possible, avoid going outside early in the morning or at dusk when mosquitoes are most active. But if you have to go outdoors, wear a bug spray that contains DEET.

“It is believed 80 percent of people who come in contact with the West Nile mosquito may not ever realize they have it. Someone might just have a small cough for a couple days. For the other 20 percent of the people, it can be very impactful,” said Prochaska.

Unfortunately, Prochaska knows first-hand about how dangerous West Nile can be.

He and three others in his family all contracted the virus. He was just a sophomore in high school when he was diagnosed.

He suffered from migraines and the virus altered his blood pressure for nearly a decade.

“Those 9-10 years of…it was, I guess I don’t know how to completely describe it. It was a very interesting time. I always remember going to classes sometimes and some of my professors would be like, ‘You look like you’re about to pass out. Are you sure you can be here?’ And some of those days I was like, ‘I will be here as much as I can because it’s just hard to concentrate,” said Prochaska.

Now, his blood pressure is back to normal. 

But his family didn’t fully recover. 

“For my sister, it altered her thyroid. It never returned to normal for her like it did for me. She has to be screened for cancer once a year for that purpose. And then for my dad, he lost part of his eyesight and his hearing. The hearing ended up being a little bit worse, that never came back. The eyesight did restore itself a little bit,” said Prochaska.

15 years later, his mom started experiencing symptoms and ended up being hospitalized.

“One of her lungs filled up with an infection, so she actually lost a chunk of one of her lungs. She was hospitalized for about three months before they kind of started to put together what was happening,” said Prochaska.

Prochaska says people need to be aware of just how serious the virus can be.

You CAN get the virus twice. Prochaska says there are also different strains of West Nile. You won’t get the same one you had but you can get a different one, and we cannot spread it to another person.

Using an Antihistamine, applying cool water or a calamine lotion are all good remedies if you’ve been bitten.

The number one thing is NOT to scratch it however tempting it may be.

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