OGDEN — For six days, Gina Vodopich and her son thought his illness was something common.
But after he collapsed in his yard, confused, mumbling and sweating, he was hospitalized in intensive care. Four days later, doctors determined Ryan Stuart, of Ogden, had neuro-invasive West Nile virus.
Stuart had improved to stable condition Tuesday, but Vodopich said he no longer can walk or eat on his own and he speaks only a few words occasionally, mostly inaudibly. He has inflammation in his brain and he comes in and out of consciousness.
At a news conference at McKay-Dee Hospital, Vodopich said her 37-year-old son had been strong and healthy and probably did not use mosquito repellent.
Now he may face months of rehabilitation, and she said she is hearing “conflicting stories” from health care people about whether he will make a full recovery.
Vodopich said Stuart has meningitis, encephalitis, and became septic for a time.
She said Stuart began suffering severe headaches and neck pain two or three days before he collapsed.
“He was too stubborn to take action on it,” she said, adding, however, that many strong, healthy people would do the same thing.
Vodopich and a Weber-Morgan Health Department communicable disease specialist who accompanied her Tuesday used the occasion to urge Utahns to take preventive measures against the mosquito-borne disease.
Stuart’s case is the first human West Nile infection in Weber County this year, said the health department’s Amy Carter.
Children, older people and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to severe symptoms, but as Stuart’s plight spotlights, anyone could be at risk.
One in 10 people who suffer the neuro-invasive form of West Nile die from the affliction, Carter said.
She advised people to use Environmental Protection Agency-approved mosquito repellent that contains DEET. Some varieties of sunscreen also contain DEET.
Long sleeves and pants are recommended as well, and Carter urged parents to apply DEET to their children before they go outside during the warm months.
Using repellent “just needs to become a common habit,” Vodopich said.
More than 70% of people infected with West Nile never develop symptoms, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Other symptoms include headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea or rash, the department said.
Fewer than 1% of people infected will develop a serious neurologic illness, such as meningitis.
Stuart has a new home and had been irrigating his yard, Vodopich said, and she’s wondering now whether the yard had become a mosquito haven.
“In hindsight there were some red flags,” she said.
Vodopich said she is gladdened that Stuart is well enough to start rehab Wednesday.
“It will be baby steps,” she said. “We have a whole new life coming up.”
The West Nile virus has been detected in mosquito pools across Utah in 2019, including Utah County and southern Utah.