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Dallas Surgeon Speaks About Debilitating Battle With West Nile

Courtney Collins

Health Department officials worry a case of West Nile virus this early in the season could mean more to come. One survivor hopes citizens will take this threat seriously.

Dr. Don Read is a surgeon. Seven years ago when his flu-like symptoms escalated frighteningly, he knew it was time to worry.

"I felt like I was carrying a backpack with a thousand pounds of bricks, trying to get around. I’d make it through a few hours and then I’d be worn out and have to go home and go back to bed," Read said.

Soon, Read was sleeping 20 hours a day and losing feeling in his legs. He suspected the mosquito- borne West Nile virus. And he was right.

"Over a month in ICU in two different hospitals, two months in in-patient rehab, two months in outpatient rehab. I was out of work for seven months. And when I went back to work, I could see patients for one hour, do the paperwork and then go back home and go to bed," he said.

At the peak of his illness, Read’s legs were paralyzed and he couldn’t speak or write. A slim minority of people who contract West Nile virus experience these extreme symptoms, but Read said that’s no reason to be complacent.

"So only one out of 150 people get the serious symptoms? That’s like playing Russian roulette with a revolver with 150 chambers and one bullet. You can pull it a bunch of time and miss but if you get that one time, you’re in bad shape. You do not want to have this disease,” he said.

Dallas County Health Department Director Zach Thompson said it is very early in the season for a human case, and he’s worried about the 15 zip codes with West Nile infected mosquito pools.

"This could be a difficult and challenging summer as it relates to West Nile virus. So we’re very concerned and we want our citizens to be concerned enough to protect themselves," he said.

Thompson said the best way to do that is to take simple precautions. Drain standing water at your house, wear long sleeves and pants when you go outside at dawn and dusk and use bug spray with DEET.

Counties and cities across North Texas are trapping and testing mosquitoes and spraying infected areas. If you have a question about your neighborhood, call city hall or your local health department.

If your neighborhood is scheduled for mosquito spray, remember to stay indoors, cover fish ponds and bring in your animals.

Dallas County Health and Human Services has more on symptoms of West Nile and how to prevent exposure.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.