Ont. man recovering from near-fatal West Nile virus infection
Published Friday, September 7, 2012 9:12PM EDT
A 51-year-old Brampton man says he is lucky to be alive after a West Nile virus infection left him in a coma for more than a week.
Speaking to CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney, Richard Gabriel recalled his near-death experience after he contracted the disease, which is spread by infected mosquitoes.
Gabriel, a construction worker, said he knew something was wrong when he was driving home and he started to see double.
“I get blind,” he said from the Brampton Civic Hospital where he continues to recover. “I couldn't see nothing. I see four or five.”
Gabriel said he was very confused, to the point that he couldn’t even recognize his own brother and sister.
“I don't know nobody, even my brother ask who I am, I say, I don't know,” he said. “I get worse, worse, worse, worse.”
Gabriel made it to hospital, where he slipped into a coma. He was kept in that coma for a week and a half.
Gabriel represents just one of 150 confirmed or suspected cases of West Nile virus in humans in Ontario this season, in what is the worst year for the virus in the province since heath officials started tracking West Nile a decade ago.
He was a very sick man, said Gabriel’s doctor, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sergio Borgia.
“I think he is lucky to be alive today. In fact, I know he is lucky to be alive today,” said Borgia. “He was very sick. He was profusely sweating, drenched, obviously not responding to me, in a coma.”
Luckily, Borgia knew what was happening with West Nile virus in Ontario and he zeroed in on a diagnosis.
While West Nile virus cases are up in the entire province, and Toronto and Hamilton regions are particularly hard hit, said infectious diseases specialist Dr. Neil Rau.
“It is very clear that the greatest, for West Nile this year, appears to be around Toronto, the greater Toronto area, a bit of Hamilton Niagara and then moving out towards London,” Rau said.
While Gabriel’s case illustrates that West Nile virus can have very serious health consequences, most cases of the disease are more mild and cause flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, rash and fatigue that can last a week or longer.
Only one in five people who are bitten by a mosquito that is infected with West Nile virus will show any symptoms at all.
Only about one in 100 infected people will experience serious symptoms, like Gabriel did.
Two weeks after he first fell ill, Gabriel still doesn’t know where he acquired the disease, but he said he did visit a farm shortly before getting sick.
One thing is for certain-- Gabriel tells his doctor that he will never leave the house without mosquito protection again.
“With long sleeves, oh yeah, with spray, long pants everything,” Gabriel said.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Austin Delaney