West Nile survivor recounts dangers of virus after OSDH confirms 3 cases

OKLAHOMA CITY - The first cases of West Nile Virus season have been reported in parts of Oklahoma.

One woman is sharing her experience as a West Nile Virus survivor, not knowing one bite would leave her hospitalized in a months-long fight for her life.

“It was life-changing,” Erin Baxendale said.

Erin Baxendale lived the American Dream – a mother and loving wife a hairdressing business and plenty of hobbies.

“I loved doing yard work,” Baxendale said.

Bitten in September 2013, she woke up with a headache and a stiff neck.

By the end of the week, she couldn’t stand.

“My husband got home from work and he found me wrapped up in a towel on the couch passed out,” Baxendale said.

Unable to move, Baxendale was rushed to the hospital and sent immediately to the Intensive Care Unit.

“In my mind, I thought we were in Fort Worth, Texas,” Baxendale said. “I didn’t remember we had a son. I didn’t remember. I was hallucinating.“

Doctors diagnosed her with West Nile Virus, and this particular strong was attacking her brain and spinal cord.

“It almost killed me,” Baxendale said.

Six years later, the killer mosquito-borne illness strikes Oklahomans once again.

In May, the Tulsa Health Department announced that a sample of mosquitoes from a trap in Tulsa County tested positive for the virus.

Now, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced three cases in Tulsa, Grant, and Canadian counties.

Two mosquitos carrying West Nile Virus also were found in Oklahoma County.

Health experts tell News 4 the number in both humans and mosquitos will likely rise with the temperature.

Many people diagnosed with the disease experience symptoms like fever, headache, dizziness, and muscle weakness.

Some patients recover in a few weeks and others, like Baxendale, are left with a permanent reminder.

The 40-year-old no longer able to use her right arm.

All while raising a toddler and in her first few years of marriage.

“My husband bathed me, took me to the bathroom, and helped me in and out of bed,” Baxendale said.

The young mom says she’s adapted to her new life as a West Nile Virus survivor.

Lucky to be alive, she hopes this hatching season preys easy.

“People walk around like oh it’s not going to happen to me because you don’t think it will but when it does it’s ugly,” Baxendale said.

Tips on preventing mosquito bites:

  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin and clothing when going outdoors, particularly between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are more likely to bite. Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only. Always follow instructions when applying repellent.
  • Avoid spraying repellent on a child’s hands, eyes, mouth or irritated skin. Adults should apply repellent to their hands and then apply to a child’s face.
  • Products containing DEET may be used on children older than 2 months of age.
  • Protect infants by putting a mosquito net over infant carriers and strollers.
  • Avoid outdoor activities when Culex mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and early evening.
  • When weather permits, wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outdoors.
  • Repair or install window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of the home.
  • Prevent items such as buckets, cans, pool covers, flower pots, children’s toys, and tires from holding water so mosquitoes don’t have a place to breed.
  • Clean leaves and debris from rain gutters regularly to ensure they are not clogged.
  • Repair any leaking faucets or irrigation systems.
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