Cartersville resident Nancy Hatch began feeling poorly the first week of May. Days later, she was admitted to Cartersville Medical Center and after 15 days she was well enough to enter rehabilitation where she stayed for another 10 days learning again how to take full command of her motor-function skills, including walking and talking.
Hatch was suffering from spinal meningitis, a swelling of the brain and spinal cord. What began with fever and exhaustion turned within hours into symptoms mimicking Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Although while hospitalized Hatch was informed by doctors that her condition was originally caused by West Nile Virus, it was not recorded as a confirmed case by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention due to reasons protected by the HIPPA Privacy Rule.
The conditions suffered by Hatch are, however, the same as those that can begin from a mosquito bite. Hospitalized on May 7, Hatch did not return to her home until June 1. The night she was taken to the emergency room, she was largely incoherent and at times delirious, unable to recognize where she was.
“I don’t remember much about that week,” Hatch said. “It’s like my brain just shut down. I don’t remember them putting me in a room. I don’t remember anything from those first few days. ... But some people couldn’t tell because I was talking and everything, but I was mumbling and shaking.
“I got into a new room and I thought I was home, I was calling for the cat. It was just so bizarre. It hit me so fast.”
Hatch credits friends and family for helping her get the proper medical attention. Her illness worsened while her husband was out of town. He could tell from phone conversations that something was not right and with the help of neighbors and their daughter, Hatch was taken to CMC in time to save her life just as symptoms were escalating.
“If I had not gotten to the hospital that night, if my friends and [my daughter] and [my husband] had not taken an active part of this, the doctors said I would have gone into a coma and I would have been dead by the time anybody came to check on me the next day,” Hatch said, adding how friends and church family came to her aid during her hospitalization and after she returned home. “One of my friends put it on Facebook, for anyone that wanted to help do anything she had two-hour slots. I had friends there [at the hospital] from breakfast to dinner.”
Despite the CDC not recording Hatch’s illness, there have been 21 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in Georgia and three related deaths. One case has been confirmed in Bartow County, an adult male.
The Georgia Department of Public Health released a statement on Aug. 24 confirming that mosquitos tested across much of the state were carrying the virus responsible for meningitis.
“Mosquitoes from 54 West Nile Virus monitoring sites in metro Atlanta and another 20 in coastal and south Georgia have tested positive for the virus that can lead to brain or spinal cord swelling, or even death. DPH has deemed these areas at high risk for WNV transmission,” stated the DPH release.
New numbers are released each Tuesday by the CDC. As of Aug. 28, there were a record 1,590 confirmed cases nationwide and 65 related deaths with nearly half of both tallies coming from the state of Texas. This year’s escalation of West Nile Virus follows a mild winter and will likely continue until the first hard freeze.
“The problem of mosquitoes and West Nile Virus appears to be escalating in Georgia and across the country,” said Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, DPH director of health protection. “More West Nile Virus cases have been confirmed by the third week in August than at any time in the last 10 years.”
The DPH advises residents to follow “the five D’s” of West Nile Virus prevention:
• Dusk — Mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus usually bite at dusk and dawn.
• Dawn — Avoid outdoor activity at dusk and dawn if possible. If you must be outside, be sure to protect yourself from bites.
• Dress — Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants to reduce the amount of exposed skin.
• DEET — Cover exposed skin with an insect repellent containing the chemical DEET, which is the most effective repellent against mosquito bites.
• Drain — Empty any containers holding standing water because they can be excellent breeding grounds for virus-carrying mosquitoes.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/westnile.