DENVER — Jonathan Maness was a healthy active 42-year old until a mosquito bite sent him to the emergency room and paralyzed him for weeks.
"I'm a huge sports fan. I go to Nuggets games, I dance for The Average Joes. In my free time, I take my dog for a walk. I mean, I'm pretty active. At least before this," said Maness. "I played in a bocce ball league, I played in a kickball league. I mean, I have a hard time sitting still."
Maness had never even been to the hospital before. But that all changed after a trip in late August, when he and a group of friends traveled to Fort Collins for a birthday party at a private lake.
Parts of Fort Collins had been sprayed for mosquitoes, but Maness was unlucky. He was bitten by a mosquito and, like most people, didn't think much of it, until a few days later.
"I had a fever, I had hot and cold flashes. I was very lethargic. I took the day off from work and I just slept all day. Then I started losing my mobility," said Maness, who initially thought the symptoms might have been COVID-19. "I couldn't use my left leg. I tried to take the trash out, but I wasn't strong enough. Then I lost my ability with my right leg, so I was crawling around the house."
His roommate eventually found him passed out in his room and called the ambulance. West Nile didn't even cross his mind or his doctors'.
"My kidneys were not functioning. [Doctors] had a lot of different fears. I think finally, when they did a lumbar puncture, was when they figured out it was West Nile but that took like three or four days," said Maness.
He'd spend several days in the ICU before being released from the hospital after a week. After some time in an out-patient facility, he's now home, moving around on a walker and going to physical therapy three times a week to gain mobility back in his legs. At the moment, his left knee and hamstrings do not work.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 1 in 150 people (0.67%) who are infected with West Nile develop the type of severe illness that impacts the nervous system or spinal cord like in Maness' case.
Maness is hopeful to make a full recovery eventually and re-join his Average Joes teammates on the court soon.
"They're a great group of guys. I've been doing it for four years. It's become a family and they've been so supportive through this," he said.
He wants people to know what to look out for so they don't wait too long before seeking out medical help.
"What the doctors told me is, if you didn't get to the hospital now, I'd have been too severe. So I think being aware of it, being aware of the symptoms. You have a bug bite and you start realizing that, 'Okay, I've got these symptoms,' go to the doctor. Go find out what it is and don't wait around like I did," said Maness.
A CDC fact sheet states symptoms of severe West Nile include fever, headache, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, and paralysis.
How to protect yourself and your family from West Nile virus
Mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, so the first line of defense against potential exposure is to avoid activities during this time, according to health experts.
As mosquito season continues, health officials recommend taking the following steps to protect yourself and your family from West Nile virus:
- Stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in or near water on your property by:
- Eliminating sources of standing water near your home by emptying, scrubbing, turning over, covering or throwing out items that hold water such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, wheelbarrows, pools, birdbaths, flowerpots, or trash containers once a week. All of these can become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus
- Check for water-holding containers both indoors and outdoors
- Avoid watering cement or on the street, as these can result in pools that support larval mosquitoes
- If making landscape decisions, consider ways to minimize overspray (of irrigation) to streets and gutters
- Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks in areas where mosquitoes are active
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or para-menthane-diol. The EPA has a database where you can search for and find a repellent that is right for you.
In addition to eliminating sources of standing water around your home weekly, you can also mosquito-proof your home by installing or repairing screens on windows and doors.
As of Wednesday, 356 people have been hospitalized from complications of a West Nile virus infection, with 43 deaths reported so far this season — more than double the number of deaths reported in 2022.
So far in 2023, 582 people have contracted West Nile virus across the state.
In Colorado, most West Nile virus cases are diagnosed in August and September, but cases can be identified as early as May and as late as December. Generally, the mosquito season extends from late-April until mid-October, with the end usually signaled by the first freeze in the fall.