San Diego man talks about surviving West Nile virus

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SAN DIEGO – A San Diego man who was infected with the West Nile virus years ago beat it, but it had a lasting effect.

Six years ago, Bill Polick suddenly lost 30 pounds and fell very ill. He was a 62-year-old surfer and motorcycle enthusiast and had to stay in the hospital for a month, sleeping nearly 90 percent of the time.

“I went to sleep and I almost didn’t wake up. It almost killed me,” said Polick.  “I had chills, a fever and shacking so bad even though I was laying under about seven blankets. I had a rash for a couple days… I had no clue what it was.”

It took doctors nearly six weeks to diagnose the health issue as the West Nile virus, Polick said.

Before he became ill in September of 2008, Polick had no indications he was at risk. As a public information officer for the county of public health, he thought he had done everything possible to protect himself from the disease.

On October 9, a 71-year-old San Carlos man was admitted to Sharp Grossmont Hospital with symptoms similar to Polick’s and died three weeks after he was reported sick.

According to San Diego County health officials, he is the second man to die from the infection since 2007.

“A lot of the myth around the disease is where it comes from. It only comes from one place in humans and that’s mosquito bites.”

Mosquitos get the disease from feeding on infected birds and can later pass it on when they bite animals or humans.

The infection, which weakens the immune system, can lead to severe neurological illnesses like meningitis.

There are no treatments or vaccine for the virus. In the most severe cases, patients can die.

People over the age of 50 with weak immune systems are most at risk.

Peak season for the infection is between July to September, however due to the two recent cases in San Diego County, health officials want people to take extra caution.

Health officials urge people to protect themselves by practicing “Prevent, Protect, Report.”

  • Prevent Mosquito Breeding: Dump out or remove any backyard item that can hold water, such as plant saucers, rain gutters, buckets, garbage cans, toys, old tires and wheelbarrows. Mosquito fish, available for free from Vector Control, may be used to control mosquito breeding in backyard water sources such as neglected swimming pools, ponds, fountains and water troughs.
  • Protect Yourself from Mosquito Bites: Protect yourself from West Nile virus by staying inside when mosquitoes are most active, between dusk and dawn. Wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors. Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of eucalyptus or IR3535 when outside. Make sure screens on windows and doors are in good condition and secured.
  • Report Dead Birds and Green Swimming Pools: Please report dead crows, ravens, jays, hawks and owls, and green pools to the Vector Control Program at 858-694-2888 or vector@sdcounty.ca.gov.

Statewide, the infection rate is the worst in a decade with 22 deaths reported.

Despite being weakened by the sickness, Polick continues to ride his motorcycle and is trying to enjoy life as much as possible.

“All of a sudden my bucket list became much more important and I have been living my life accordingly ever since,” said Polick.

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