October 1, 2007

Dassel man has most severe type of West Nile Disease

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

“Protect yourself,” Jon Karg of Dassel is urging Dassel Cokato residents. Karg wants everyone to use mosquito repellent and wear long sleeves and long pants, he said.

Karg contracted West Nile Virus this summer. His infection was classified as being in the most severe 2 percent of those who get the disease.

Also, the number of people infected in Minnesota doubled between Aug. 28 and Sept. 18. The number of those infected in Colorado quadrupled during the same period, Karg pointed out from the Centers for Disease Control statistics.

The CDC is predicting 20 percent of the US population will be exposed to the disease in the near future. Although most won’t notice any symptoms at all, 3 percent to 15 percent will die.

And some of the 20 percent infected will be severe, like Karg’s infection was.

“This was so severe, I thought I was dying,” Karg said, now in the eighth week since he was diagnosed.

Karg, who is originally from Hutchinson, is an avid angler and hunter, and also often works outside at his job as a construction project supervisor.

Karg doesn’t remember where he was when he was bit by the Culex mosquito, the carrier of West Nile Virus. It could have been anywhere from Duluth to Grand Rapids, where he traveled during the summer, or while fishing in local lakes, such as Collinwood or Manuella, Karg said.

It takes three to 14 days before any symptoms show, he added.

Karg remembers, however, that Aug. 12, during a family gathering in Dassel, his wrists and hands ached when he flexed them. It was odd, but he wasn’t concerned, he said.

The next day, Aug. 13, he drove to work on I-35W to Duluth, where he was supervising a building project at the Sheraton Hotel. While driving north, he started having muscle spasms, especially in his upper torso. Karg’s body was jerking and rolling so badly, he couldn’t steer the car. He pulled off the road and waited for the spasms to settle down, Karg said.

Karg was puzzled, but he thought he must be coming down with the flu.

When he got to the hotel, and took off his shirt, he noticed he had a rash all over his chest and arms. Karg went to urgent care at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth. There, the doctors treated him as if he were having an allergic reaction, Karg said.

On Tuesday, Karg was worse. He was shaking violently. He telephoned his girlfriend, Gayle Schroeder of Dassel, who is a former nurse.

Schroeder dropped everything and drove to Duluth. It seemed as if Karg had fever, but in her haste to get to Duluth, Schroeder forgot to bring a thermometer, she said.

Wednesday morning, Schroeder went to a drug store and bought a thermometer. Karg’s fever had climbed to 102.3 degrees.

Karg couldn’t get out of bed.

“His muscles weren’t working,” Schroeder said, adding that now Karg was nauseated, had a severe headache, and a stiff neck, classic symptoms of meningitis.

They immediately went back to St. Mary’s Hospital for tests. Karg had a spinal tap to see if the meningitis was bacterial or viral. By the next day, doctors knew it was viral, but didn’t know which virus. It takes four days of testing to determine a virus, Schroeder said.

While doctors were trying to determine which virus he had, Karg was the most ill he had ever been in his entire life. Karg doesn’t even remember much of what happened during his time in the hospital, Schroeder said.

Karg had constant, violent, convulsive-like tremors or shaking.

“It was horrible to watch,” Schroeder said.

Karg kept asking if maybe he had Parkinson’s disease, and when would the illness end, if ever, she said.

Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, an infectious disease doctor, was assigned to his case. Prabhu had diagnosed another man with West Nile Disease three weeks earlier, and suspected that Karg had it, too. However, Karg was so much worse than the average West Nile patient, Prabhu was stumped, Schroeder said.

Karg’s fever ended, and because there usually is no treatment for viruses, the couple came back to Dassel, she said.

The next day, Prabhu telephoned them that the CDC confirmed Karg had West Nile Disease. There are two types of the neuroinvasive disease, according to the CDC. West Nile encephalitis is when the virus infects the lining of the brain. West Nile meningitis is when the virus infects the lining of the spinal cord, the kind that Karg had.

Because his spinal cord was infected, the disease affected his coordination and ability to walk. Karg would get exhausted just taking a shower, he said.

When he tried to walk, he’d bump into walls. Family and friends had to “babysit” him, he said, while Schroeder went to work at her job at an insurance agency.

Karg lost 20 pounds from the constant shaking, and not being able to eat anything except yogurt, Jell-o and fruit.

In September, Karg went to a neurologist, who assured him it didn’t appear he will have permanent damage. Karg also goes to a physical therapist in Litchfield to regain his muscle strength, he said.

In the last three weeks, Karg is 100 percent better than he was in August, he said. Karg is relieved because he had heard of another West Nile victim in Hutchinson who is still in a wheelchair, he added.

Karg said he wants his experience to be a “wake-up call” for the public about the disease. It is spreading rapidly across the country, and more people will have the disease as badly as Karg has. Wear mosquito repellent, he emphasized.

US Center for Disease Control facts about West Nile Disease

• How do people get infected with West Nile virus?

The main route of human infection with West Nile virus is through the bite of an infected Culex mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds.

• What are the symptoms of West Nile disease? Some people have no symptoms at all. Most people have fever, headache, tiredness, body aches, skin rash and swollen lymph glands.

• What are the symptoms of neuroinvasive West Nile disease? Symptoms include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis and coma.

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