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Recovering from West Nile brings family together

Bob Matthews, a retired Heritage Hall principal, has spent the past several months recovering from West Nile virus. Matthews is thankful for the support of his family during his recovery.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: March 24, 2013

After six months in a hospital bed, it's hard to describe why home feels good.

But as Bob Matthews sits in a green chair in his living room, he knows this is where he wants to be.

“There's nothing like being in your own home with your own family,” he said.

Matthews, 77, has spent the past several months recovering from West Nile virus. After contracting the virus in June, he was paralyzed, and at one point, doctors thought he might not make it.

Last year, Oklahoma saw a record-breaking number of cases of West Nile virus, with 178 confirmed cases reported to the state Health Department. Of that, 30 people died, more than any previous year.

West Nile virus is contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito and is not spread through human-to-human contact.

State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley said there is no way to know whether this spring and summer will bring a worse West Nile virus season.

“It would be foolhardy for us to make any sort of firm projections on that,” Bradley said. “It just seems to be this cycle where, we had an outbreak in 2003, and then it was relatively quiet for three years, and then we had another larger outbreak in 2007, and then we went four years with relatively low activity, and then it rebounded with a vengeance in 2012.”

Bradley said although there seems to be a pattern, it is important to remember that West Nile virus is present each spring and summer, not only during the outbreak years.

Before 1999, West Nile virus was found only in the Eastern Hemisphere, in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 1999, more than 30,000 people in the United States have been reported as getting sick with West Nile virus, according to the CDC. Last year's West Nile virus epidemic broke records not only in Oklahoma but also nationwide.

Older adults are more likely to develop the most serious complications associated with West Nile virus, including high fever, headache, coma, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to the CDC. These symptoms can last several weeks, and neurological effects might be permanent.

Among the Oklahoma residents who contracted West Nile virus last year, residents' ages ranged from 1 to 93, according to the state Health Department. Of those, 42 percent were 65 or older.

Of those who died, 83 percent were 65 years or older.

Bradley said the consequences of West Nile virus can be devastating to people's lives.

“They may never recover fully, and if they do, it's quite a long path to recovery, and they learn a new meaning of patience and appreciating the small improvements and advancements they make,” she said.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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