Unwanted bites give Oklahoma fishing buddies West Nile virus

Bryan Painter: Christie McDonald-Hamm, epidemiologist with the Oklahoma Health Department, said there is no way to know if West Nile virus will be an issue in 2013, and if so when it will peak or if it will be as bad as last year.
by Bryan Painter Published: March 24, 2013
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The first day Thurn started feeling effects, he found himself laying his head on his desk during a conference call. The second day he checked the co-worker into the wall on the way to get coffee. The third day, he went to work and just sat at his desk. By 10 a.m., Thurn was at the doctor.

There were days he felt he had his strength back, but within a short time he'd be on the couch. Looking back, Thurn said he had the rash, fever, memory loss and was “very, very lethargic.”

“As soon as you thought you were feeling better, you would have a relapse and all the symptoms would start coming back,” Thurn said.

He was back at work after three weeks, but it took about a month before he felt he had recovered.

Wilkinson had been feeling the effects, too. He was at the pharmacy picking up some medicine and ran into Thurn's wife, who mentioned her husband was sick. The buddies talked on the phone and compared symptoms. Their situations weren't improving.

Eventually, after Thurn tested positive for West Nile, he called Wilkinson who went to the doctor. He, too, tested positive.

Wilkinson had a tougher time rebounding.

“Once at the hospital, they gave me some I.V.'s and said that it was very close to going into my spinal fluid,” Wilkinson said.

He went home and rested and finally recovered.

Time to fish

Wilkinson has pressed the button on his trusty Zebco reel on the banks of lakes and farm ponds in northwest Oklahoma since at age 5. He'd go out with his dad, and occasionally his mom would come along. Wilkinson's memories are made of landing bass and catfish. Thurn grew up in Ohio. His recollections are more about pulling walleye from Lake Erie.

It is thought you can get West Nile virus only once in your lifetime, McDonald-Hamm said.

Regardless, Wilkinson and Thurn both say it wouldn't change their plans. They'd still fish. They'd just make sure they had the insect repellent on.

Both know they were lucky the effects were not worse. They've learned from the experience and are sharing the message.

“Fishing is what my dad and children have always done for time together,” Wilkinson said. “This is a lot of fun for me and my family and friends, but I will take the precautions.”

Thurn said the thing is, you could be in working in your flower bed or doing other things and be at risk.

“You don't have to be in a boat,” he said. “You can be standing at your neighbor's grill eating a burger.

“Starting in the next week or two, if I go out, I'll spray my body and my shirt. Since I went through it, I'll see people outside and think, ‘I hope they have their bug spray on,' because it's just that serious.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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