West Nile back in Kentuckiana; former patient recalls battle with disease

By Caton Bredar

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) -- An elderly Floyd County resident died Monday from complications related to the West Nile virus, and someone in Louisville was recently diagnosed with the disease. Although serious, it's not necessarily a death sentence. WAVE 3's Caton Bredar recently spoke with one local man who is still going strong three years he was stricken with the virus.

Bob Bryant's story should be encouraging to Louisville's latest West Nile patient. That person is suffering from encephalitis caused by the disease -- the same thing that almost killed Bryant in 2004. Today, Bryant still feels some effects from the virus, but at age 79, he's back in his garden and going strong, calling himself one of the lucky ones.

Locally, the numbers have gone down. "A few years ago, we saw a higher number of cases," said Dr. Matthew Zahn, Director of the city's health & wellness department. "In the last couple of years, we've seen far fewer. But we're still seeing it, and I think the best we can expect is that every year we're going to be at the risk of seeing one or two cases in Louisville and around the state."

The virus is spread by mosquitoes who feast on infected birds, and Dr. Zahn says it isn't unusual to see the disease in September. "As the summer goes on, presumably, the virus spreads around the mosquito pools a little more, and so it's really common for us that if we're going to see cases, we'll see it at the end of the summer, and that's kind of where we are."

Severe reactions, though, according to Dr. Zahn, are unusual. He says the majority of people stricken with West Nile -- about 80 percent -- never show symptoms.

Count Bryant in the minority. He first noticed a problem three years ago when he came in from working in his garden feeling very weak. He says he had a fever of 105, and doesn't remember leaving his house to go to the hospital.

Bryant's wife, Elizabeth, who has been married to him for 48 years, remembers. "I said, 'do you want to go the hospital?' He said, 'I think I should. There's something wrong with me.'"

It took doctors days and a spinal tap to confirm West Nile, then two weeks in the hospital and three weeks in rehab before he was able to go home.

"I had to learn how to eat, talk, walk, everything," Bryant said.

He slowly got back to normal, although some new problems like a skin rash related to the virus have cropped up. And other symptoms -- like weakness and tremors -- remain.

"My right hand is solid as a rock," Bryant said, "but my left hand will quiver at times."

But Bryant hasn't let the minor problems keep him out of his garden -- although he now always wears long sleeves and pants.

Bryant says "I'd rather sweat a little bit," than take a chance on getting West Nile again.