Healthwatch: West Nile Study

By  | 

Officials now say the outbreak of mosquito-borne disease in the summer of 2002 was the most serious in nearly three decades.

Stan Rosen says he's never been as sick as when he came down with West Nile disease.

'I was like a paraplegic. I couldn't use my legs or my arms. I couldn't even feed myself," said Rosen. "I had no strength at all."

Doctors, too, have been struck with how serious West Nile can be and they want public health authorities to realize it's nothing like the flu.

"The thing that struck us the most and was the biggest incentive for doing this study was the face being put on by public health authorities which was, well, it's not such a big deal," said Dr. James Brunton of the University of Toronto.

Brunton and a team of thirteen researchers reviewed what happened to just 64 of some 1,000 cases in Ontario, Canada. They were hospitalized for over 1,800 days. That's the equivalent of five years.

Researchers spent over 500 days in intensive care units. One-quarter of the patients required life support. One complication was a frightening polio-like paralysis. Others suffered disabling muscle weakness, so much so that 80 percent required rehabilitation or extra care when they went home.

Doctors haven't yet calculated the cost but they say it's a sample from seven Toronto-area hospitals. Their goal is to alert public health authorities.

"I want them just to understand just what a burden this is to the medical system and society in general and of course to the patients and their family," said Brunton.

American researchers have the same message.

"It's very clear that many of the people who do get sick do not recover and, or recover fully and they are left with many chronic, long-term health effects," said Dr. Lyle Peterson of the Centers for Disease Control.

Public health officials seem to be hearing the warnings. Ontario is preparing faster lab tests for West Nile and several regions are planning to use pesticides to kill off mosquito larva before they become a health hazard that can cause the kinds of damage doctors now say happened last summer.