A working mother in Colorado lost the ability to raise her daughter and do her job after contracting a rare case of West Nile virus last year.
Lisa Montez, a 31-year-old native of Windsor, Colorado, believes she contracted the virus about a year ago while hiking or fishing, once her favorite pastimes.
After falling ill and developing debilitating symptoms, the avid hiker, who enjoyed knitting, reading and spending time with her daughter, lost the ability to drive, maintain her 50-hour work week as a software developer, and be a caring mother.
Contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito and often undiagnosed, West Nile virus is mild about 80 percent of the time, but the virus can, in severe cases, cause neurological damage such as brain inflammation and meningitis.
About 20 percent of people who contract the virus experience fatigue, fever, headaches, joint pain, rashes, and stomach problems.
Although many people will recover from West Nile virus without medical treatment, some people, like Ms. Montez, will experience disabling symptoms.
Lisa Montez contracted West Nile virus in July 2022, and unlike about 80% of cases, she became ill almost immediately. She is part of a small group experiencing symptoms such as migraines, fatigue, fever and rash. In the most severe cases, the virus can cause brain swelling, seizures, and paralysis.
Ms. Montez developed a rash on her face in addition to other common symptoms associated with West Nile virus.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease. It is not spread from person to person, but through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Insects pick up the virus from birds, the natural reservoir of the virus.
Ms. Montez saying: ‘I had the rash, I had flu-like symptoms, but instead of getting better like most people, you feel bad for a few days, I didn’t get better. I ended up getting worse and worse and worse.
“We went from being completely healthy and well and normal to not being the complete opposite.”
Now, she doesn’t have the energy to participate in her favorite activities and experiences migraines, fatigue, balance problems and difficulty concentrating.
Her symptoms have also deprived her of the ability to drive because they have led to slower processing and decreased multitasking skills that would allow her to pay attention to her surroundings, other cars, speed limits, and traffic rules.
He has also reduced his workload from a rigorous 50-hour workweek to part-time hours.
Her husband Abel has had to take on many household responsibilities and become the main caregiver for her six-year-old daughter, Aria.
Mr. Montez said of his daughter Aria: “I just couldn’t understand why all of a sudden mommy can’t play with me.” Mommy has to go to bed. So she really got it, you know, “If mommy needs to rest, she lets mommy rest.”
West Nile virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected species of mosquito, the Culex mosquito. Insects become infected with West Nile virus after feeding on birds, which are common hosts for the virus.
Culex mosquitoes live primarily around sources of standing water, like the lake where Ms. Montez lives near in northern Colorado.
The map above shows the states that have detected West Nile virus from 2021 to 2022. The incidence rate is per 100,000 people.
Public health authorities have seen a general global increase in the West Nile cases.
West Nile virus is also the most common mosquito-borne disease in the continental US, with an estimated 2,200 cases per year. And as the devastating effects of climate change continue, warmer temperatures and longer breeding seasons have helped the mosquito population thrive in the US.
This has increased the overall risk of contracting the disease.
Despite her struggles, Ms. Montez is determined to use her experience to educate people about West Nile and how it can be prevented.
She said: ‘Prevention is prevention, but it’s always in the back of your mind that it only takes one mosquito bite to change your life.
‘It’s really worth the two minutes to spray on mosquito repellent before going outside. It took me a whole year of my life and predictably more. Two minutes is worth it.
What is West Nile Virus? What are the warning signs? Is there treatment?
West Nile virus is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which can be caught from birds.
It was discovered in Uganda in the 1930s and is now found on almost every continent in the world. It arrived in the US in 1999, probably in a shipment from the Middle East.
The disease now causes tens of thousands of cases each year, though most go unreported because eight out of 10 do not develop symptoms.
People who contract the disease usually do not show symptoms for three to 14 days.
Those who develop warning signs tend to suffer from flu-like symptoms, muscle pain, and headaches.
However, about one in 50 cases develops a serious illness, in which they may face coma, tremors, and paralysis.
About one in 150 patients could also get encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, which is life-threatening.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus patients, but severely ill patients will be admitted to the hospital for close monitoring.
People with mild illnesses are advised to obtain over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce fever and other symptoms.
About 70 people die from the disease in the US each year.