Smith still living with West Nile effects

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 13, 2003

&uot;Pete Smith, West Nile Survivor&uot; reads the card of Natchez resident Lucian &uot;Pete&uot; Smith who contracted the virus in August of last summer. Since Smith is out of work now due to the effects of the virus, his wife made him these business cards to replace ones with a job title. Smith got sick on a Monday and thought he had the flu. He went to his doctor who told him he just needed to take some Tylenol. Then he got sicker.

This time his doctor gave him a prescription and told him it was the flu.

Then he got sicker.

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By Thursday, he had chills and a fever and a rash from head to foot. His doctor did not work on Fridays but had Smith come in at 7:30 Friday morning. He drew blood to test it, and Smith fainted.

Within a couple of hours Smith received the phone call &045; he had West Nile virus.

Since there is no medication to treat the virus, his doctor told him to just continue taking his medication.

By the next Monday, the Center for Disease Control and the state department of health were calling Smith and the state department took another blood test, confirming he did have West Nile.

Smith’s inquisitive wife, Betty Jean, had been reading about West Nile just when Smith got sick and suggested it to the doctor as a possible diagnosis, one that was initially rejected.

She also had been reading about a doctor who was researching the virus &045; Dr. Art Leis.

Smith called him and the doctor said he wanted to see Smith. And he did not have to wait or make a trip; the doctor already had a trip scheduled to Natchez.

&uot;One of my first neurologic exams was in the Ramada Inn (in the doctor’s hotel room,&uot; Smith said.

And he has been seeing him ever since.

Smith had the neurologic illness from West Nile.

&uot;I had muscle loss, nerve loss, chronic fatigue and my thought process is impaired,&uot; Smith explained.

There are many consequences to the problems Smith faces.

He cannot drive because he might lose concentration and drive off the road.

&uot;I’ve driven her (his wife) around for years,&uot; Smith said. &uot;She drives me around now.&uot;

And walking. He walks two to five miles per day but has to concentrate just to walk. He walks alone because he cannot talk and walk at the same time.

&uot;You’ve heard of people that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I can chew gum while I walk,&uot; Smith said with a laugh.

Right now he cannot work. He has filed for disability and social security at the age of 61 and those filings are still in the investigative stages.

&uot;I think I’m lucky I got West Nile even though it messed me up,&uot; Smith said.

Through seeing Dr. Leis, Smith was checked out when he started having severe back pains in March.

Leis discovered he had bone spurs in his neck, pressing on the nerves.

He was told one little blow to the neck could have cost him his life because of the problem.

No doctor had ever found this before and he had surgery to correct it.

&uot;The mosquito did me a favor probably,&uot; Smith said.

Smith attends a support group of West Nile survivors in Jackson each month.

He said there are new faces every month and West Nile Virus Coordinator for the state department of health, Sharon Sims, said people faithfully attend each month and the group is the only one in the nation.

&uot;I feel lucky cause of this whole thing but a lot of people aren’t lucky,&uot; Smith said.

Sims said a 17-year-old boy just starting coming to the group. He still has severe headaches one year later and can no longer play football.

Smith said there is one question everyone in the group wants to know &045; &uot;What is our outcome going to be?&uot;

They want to know what it will be like years down the road.

Once bitten by a mosquito with West Nile, the body is immune to the virus.

&uot;But we don’t know how long,&uot; Sims said. And that is the question survivors like Smith want to know. They want to know if they will have to worry about the virus again.

Once a week, Smith comes back to the Ramada Inn. This time, it is for weekly Lion’s Club meetings. This week, Sims spoke to educate the club about the West Nile virus.

Last year, there were 193 cases in Mississippi, 12 resulting in death. In Adams County, there were 5 cases in 2002. So far this year, there have been no cases of West Nile virus but there were three birds found to have West Nile.

Sims told the audience that birds are indicators of the virus. Humans cannot contract the disease from birds, except possibly through blood to blood contact. For this reason, officials suggest anyone finding a dead bird, double bag the bird in plastic bags before taking it to local health department officials for testing.

Smith invited the state health department to educate the Lion’s Club about West Nile. He said educating people on the virus and what they can do is important.

West Nile is a virus that can cause infection or inflammation of the spinal cord or brain. Cases range from minor to severe, some resulting in death. However, not everyone that contracts West Nile even knows they have the virus.

Sims gave a hypothetical about the potency of the virus and how it can affect different people in different ways. Out of 100 people bitten by a West Nile mosquito, probably 80 would not even know they had the virus, Sims said. About 15 to 18 or 20 of those would have headaches and not feel good. And only about one person in 100 would actually show severe symptoms of the West Nile virus, Sims said.

The Health department teaches prevention and protection. One of the most obvious ways of prevention is to drain standing water, which is the breeding ground for mosquitoes. The mosquito larvae must have water to survive. If the water is removed, the larvae will die.

Smith said he never thought about how much standing water he has around his house until this.

The state department is teaching many of methods to prevent and protect through their &uot;Fight the Bite&uot; campaign, using public service announcements on television and radio as well as printing educational material.

Smith said he thinks the city and county have done all they can do to fight West Nile.

The Natchez public works department puts out larvaecides to kill the larvae in standing water.

Richard Burke, director of Natchez public works, said the city has spraying equipment and bought one drum of pesticide to spray. He said the department may spray in a few days but has not felt the need to start spraying yet.

There have been seven complaints to the public works department but the state health department has not found West Nile in the county.

Burke said if they did spray, it would be at night, when most mosquitoes are out and most people are inside, and only on selected streets.

The best effort to prevent and protect is to spray and use the larvaecides, Burke said, because then the adult mosquitoes can be killed by spray and unborn or young mosquitoes by the larvaecides.

While the state, counties and cities are trying to prevent and protect, doctors, researchers and scientists alike are trying to learn more about the virus.

Many researchers are applying for and receiving grants to continue studying. Smith said they are making lots of headway.