Lubbock woman still recovering from rare strain of West Nile

Published: Aug. 5, 2012 at 11:51 PM CDT|Updated: Dec. 15, 2014 at 2:00 AM CST
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LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Melissa Carter is a flight attendant from Lubbock who now lives in New Jersey. Her job has allowed her to fly across the country and the world, seeing things that many people aren't able to see in a lifetime. The traveling stopped a few weeks ago, when became Melissa very sick.

"I started to feel kind of off and then all of a sudden I couldn't even walk, I couldn't talk, I couldn't do anything - I just knew I needed to go to the emergency room," Carter said.

At first, the diagnosis was bacterial meningitis, a disease that can become fatal if it's not treated quickly.

New Jersey doctors began running tests to try and diagnose exactly what it was.

"It just affected my brain, so they were doing every kind of test in the world on it," Melissa said.

After a week of tests, doctors determined that it was viral meningitis, not bacterial, that plagued Melissa, but something still wasn't right. After a final test, doctors realized it was West Nile Meningitis.

"I'm a really healthy person and I never get sick. I could never have fathomed how miserable this is," Melissa said. "Every single day, like my voice is shaky weeks after I've contracted it and I can't do little things like moving a coaster on the table because I couldn't extend my arm."

After discussion with doctors trying to determine where she may have contracted the disease, Melissa strongly believes she got it during a layover in Austin. Texas sees 60 percent of all West Nile cases in the United States.

Dr. Joe Sasin, medical director of UMC emergency room, says Melissa's form of West Nile is on the rise.

"It's more common this year," Sasin said. "Usually people get the self-limited form, but this year we're seeing patients with a very aggressive form. There have been 240 cases reported to the CDC and 40 percent of those who contract the severe form don't make it."

For Melissa's mother the entire process was terrifying.

"Words like brain fluid and bacterial and meningitis - all those kinds of words - and spinal tap, I needed Mel (Melissa's father) to get up there for me because I didn't know what I was about to hear," she said.

Melissa is not contagious. The disease can only be spread after a mosquito bites an infected animal and then bites a person, but people need to remember the three D's.

"The first D is Defense and that's Deet, which is OFF and you should cover the exposed areas of your skin. The second D is Drain which means any standing water needs to be gone. The third D is Dusk and Dawn - in other words the most frequent time that you will be bit and when mosquitoes are most active," Sasin said

There is no exact timetable for when Melissa will fully recover, but doctors said she can return to work in about three weeks.

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