Bogalusa man suffering from West Nile Virus

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Washington Parish has its first confirmed case this year of the West Nile Virus.

Darren Spears of Bogalusa, who is in his late 30s, remains hospitalized at University Hospital in New Orleans where he has been for the past two-and-a-half weeks, according to his mother, Frances Spears, also of Bogalusa.

She said test results revealed that her son is suffering from the neuro-invasive strain of the virus, which can be fatal. Already, six deaths attributed to West Nile have been reported in Louisiana.

Frances Spears said her son has been on a respirator for the majority of the past two weeks, and although he is expected to recover, the recovery process will be arduous.

“It’s scary,” said Frances Spears, who must wear a hospital gown, mask and gloves before entering her son’s room because of the reduced capacity of his immune system and a staph infection he has developed since being admitted into the hospital.

Frances Spears said her son also has inflammation of the brain.

Lisa Spears, sister-in-law of Darren, said he showed symptoms of headaches, fever and neck pain more than two weeks ago. Frances Spears said her son was also growing weaker and more fatigued by the day and on the morning of July 28, a Saturday, she found him on his sofa in his home, unable to move.

He was immediately brought to LSU Bogalusa Medical Center where he underwent a series of tests, including a spinal tap, according to Frances Spears. She was told that her son was running a high fever and was dehydrated.

She said doctors at LSUBMC suspected Darren Spears was suffering from West Nile but could not confirm it until test results were confirmed. Later that Saturday, Spears was transferred by ambulance to University Hospital in New Orleans, where additional tests were performed.

The following morning Frances Spears said she could hear her son screaming in agony even before she entered his room. She said the call button on his hospital bed was not working so he was unable to contact the nurses.

They eventually gave him something for pain but by then his neck was “stiff as a board,” according to his mother.

He also became lethargic, but Spears said fortunately for her son one of the doctors treating him had recently seen a similar case. She said the doctor knew what to expect next, including a likely attempt by Darren Spears to swallow his tongue and experience breathing difficulty.

“In 15 minutes he went down fast, to trying to swallow his tongue and not being able to breathe,” Frances Spears said.

The next day he was transferred to the intensive care unit, where he still remains and also put on a respirator. He kept on it until this past weekend when it was briefly taken off. But Lisa Spears said her brother-in-law had a seizure and was immediately put back on the respirator. He is still on the respirator, Frances Spears said.

“He jumped five steps and took (three) back,” she said, adding that initially he was recovering more rapidly than expected and had even begun physical therapy before the setback.

“The left side of his body is still weak,” Frances Spears said.

She said her son has no idea of when he was bitten by the infected mosquito but added that he spent a lot of time working in his yard, cutting the grass and doing other activates, usually late in the afternoon. She said vacant lots bordering his Bogalusa home have sprouted rapidly since Hurricane Katrina, and wonders if the mosquito may have come from the lush breeding grounds nearby.

She warned citizens going outside in the evening to wear long sleeves as well as bug repellant to protect themselves.

“Don’t have any standing water around,” she said.

Spears’ advice was echoed by Washington Parish Director of Emergency Preparedness Tommy Thiebaud, who said if possible to “stay indoors.”

“If you have to be outdoors, especially late at night, wear some kind of repellant, and long pants,” he said. “Take those extra precautions. Nobody likes to do it but I take it seriously. I think everybody should take it seriously.”

“You need to be aware. It’s always there, always part of our environment.”

He said mosquitoes need little water to breed so he urged parish residents to avoid having any standing water around their environment. He suggested turning containers upside down to prevent the possibility of puddles forming.

“We can’t eradicate it, but we must do what we can on a personal level to better prepare and prevent as many mosquito bites as possible,” he said.

For Frances Spears, the vigil will continue as she commutes to New Orleans to spend time with her son and encourage him as he struggles to recover.

“I tell him it’s going to be all right,” she said.

Spears added that no timetable has been established for her son’s release from the hospital or even when he will be moved to a room.

“I just want to get him better,” she said.

LSU AgCenter entomologist Tim Schowalter said symptoms of West Nile can occur three to 15 days after the initial infection and in mild cases can range from slight fever to headaches with extreme cases resulting in paralysis or death.

Things that can be done around the home to reduce the mosquito population include:

— Remove containers, such as old tires and other debris that can hold standing water.

— Empty flowerpots and other yard and patio containers.

— Drain fountains, ornamental ponds and swimming pools no longer being properly maintained or treat with Bt discs, which contain a bacterial pathogen of mosquito larvae.

— Fill low-lying areas to avoid standing water.

— Provide drainage ditches to promote rapid runoff of rainwater.