Letter Re: West Nile Virus


In August of 1999, my father, then just 67, fell ill at 0240 while my family was staying with he and my mother on a vacation. I took him to the local hospital; his pain was debilitating, localized just above the pelvic region.

After initial medical triage, he was transferred to the larger city hospital, where his condition worsened. He fought fever of unknown origin, underwent exploratory surgery, became confused and comatose, and after a total of 30 days from start to finish, he passed away.

As the hospital bore some degree of suspected negligence (they incorrectly inserted his feeding tube into one side of the lung, after which he unsurprisingly developed pneumonia), we retained a medical investigate attorney. After the hospital records were received and studied, our attorney informed us that, on examination, my father’s death was caused by viral encephalitis, most likely acquired via a mosquito carrying West Nile virus.

The bottom line: This was Iowa in 1999; West Nile is here to stay. – T.K.

Hugh Replies: This is certainly a wake-up call on multiple levels. Do we have what is necessary to protect against a vector transmitted virus, like West Nile? Do we have the skill and preps to treat a person infected, or at least access to someone who does? These are things that can be critical in areas that are known to have this virus (which seems to be an ever-expanding area). At the most basic level, prevention is prudent. While I keep DEET-based products around, I dislike using them on bare skin. We are learning, however, that there are effective alternatives with far fewer risk factors that seem to be just as effective, though not as long lasting. These could be critical skills and knowledge to have in the future.