West Nile was first detected in the US in 1999. Between 1999 and 2016, North Dakota reported 1,642 of the virus. Putting North Dakota in 7th compared to other states for the highest number of reports of the bug-borne illness.
Renée Cooper sat down with a North Dakotan who has been dealing with West Nile for 11 years now.
Bismarck resident Dawn Hagerott says, “It feels like someone took every muscle off of my body, cut it in half, and then reattached it. You know, so my muscles are just really super tight all the time. They don’t function right.”
Hagerott says she feels fortunate to be alive after contracting West Nile in 2007.
She adds, “There was, I’d say a good three weeks straight where I was just 100 percent convinced I wasn’t going to wake up in the morning. The fever was just so extreme and I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk. I was losing my memory, I was running into walls, I was climbing up and down the stairs on my hands and knees.”
She’s a part of one percent of people with a neuroinvasive form of West Nile.
Her Physical Therapist Stephanie Olson explains, “Where it moves into the brain and the spinal cord. And for those people, the complication I deal with is the weakness that they get when it disrupts the pathway between the brain and the muscles that you use to move your body.”
The best option for treatment is physical therapy.
Olson says, “Like Polio, there are some long-term, on-going effects. If it’s dealt with properly, we can manage it. But people don’t know.”
And since the disease comes from mosquitoes, it’s hard to know where or when you contracted it.
Hagerott says, “I could have been in my backyard picking raspberries, it could have been going to see a show at Sleepy Hollow. You know, but it only takes one mosquito.”
Hagerott says the good news, is you will know when you have it. She compares the feeling when she first contracted West Nile to the flu, and urges anyone feeling the same way to see a doctor immediately.
So far this year in North Dakota, the CDC reported three cases, two of them were neuroinvasive.