June 22, 2015
Due to recent rainfall, the Lubbock and South Plains area has experienced an increase in mosquitos that looks to only be growing as the summer progresses. With these pests comes not only a burden on outdoor activities, but the threat of contracting a harmful, mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus.
West Nile virus, one of the most prevalent mosquito-transmitted diseases, first appeared in Texas in 2002 and has since become endemic, with around 2,200 human cases reported in the state from 2002-2011. In 2012, a record outbreak of West Nile hit Texas, leading to around 1,900 cases reported and 89 deaths in that year alone. The state’s first case of West Nile Virus for 2015 was confirmed May 21 in Houston.
Kylie Boyd, a Texas Tech student from Friona, Texas, was the first minor in Texas to contract West Nile virus when she was diagnosed in 2011.
“I guess I just got bit by a mosquito in my barn,” Boyd said. “I was a sophomore in high school when I was diagnosed. It took doctors around three months and a ton of tests to finally figure out what was wrong.”
Of the 27 or 28 mosquito species found in this area, about five can transmit West Nile virus. The infection, though it often shows no symptoms, can cause fever, headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and rash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five infected people will develop a fever with other symptoms. Less than 1 percent of West Nile cases are severe, but those that are can result in a serious neurological disease.
Boyd is now a strong advocate of mosquito control and says she regularly exercises special precautions to avoid being infected again.
“My new motto is bug spray, bug spray and more bug spray,” Boyd said. “It only takes a few seconds to prevent a lifetime of struggle.”
Boyd also recommends having yards professionally sprayed, especially with all the recent rainfall.
“I wish I had taken the 10 seconds to apply bug spray the day I got bit,” Boyd said. “But now all I can do is promote prevention to others and hope we learn more about this horrible virus.”
Boyd said the symptoms she experienced mimicked Lyme disease, which is what eventually led doctors to test her for West Nile.
“The blood test came back positive,” Boyd said, “and we were devastated to find out the doctors had no cure or really much knowledge on the virus. We didn’t know what the next step was. It was just a waiting game.”
The symptoms Boyd experienced included excessive sleeping, severe nose bleeds, seizures, weight loss, low blood pressure and a high resting heart rate.
“Symptoms are very different for everyone, which makes the virus difficult to diagnose,” Boyd said.
The worst symptom Boyd experienced was the excessive sleep. After regularly sleeping a minimum of 15 hours a day, her doctors decided to put her on narcolepsy medication to try to keep her awake.
“For the short periods of time I was awake, life was still extremely hazy,” Boyd said. “Out of everything, all the sleep hindered my life the most.”
Boyd said what frightened her most about her diagnosis was the publicity it got around the community.
“My case was called into the state and appeared on many news stations,” Boyd said. “They’d say, ‘minor diagnosed with West Nile.’ It scared me to see how scared everyone else was.”
Boyd said her doctors didn’t know whether she would get worse or better, but over time she noticed her symptoms improving. She still has to deal with many lasting effects of West Nile, however, including a weakened immune system and lower energy levels.
“It took around a year to finally be able to return to my normal routine,” Boyd said. “Although I don’t think my body will ever recover fully. I still sleep more than the average 20-year-old, but I try to avoid medication and look for natural energy boosters when my body allows.”
Boyd now must receive weekly B12 shots to help her weak immune system fend off everyday infections.
There is currently no vaccine to protect against West Nile virus, so the best way to prevent contracting the disease is to exercise mosquito control. Eliminate standing pools of water where mosquitos breed, keep grass cut short and use products such as DEET mosquito repellent and window screens. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to cover exposed skin and avoid being outdoors between dusk and dawn, when mosquitos are most active.