By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The 20-year-old Havre man who tested positive for the West Nile virus said today that he is well on the way to recovery.
"I feel 100 percent better today," James Litzinger said. Litzinger was told by health officials today that a blood sample taken during an Aug. 13 hospital visit tested positive for West Nile.
Litzinger said he became ill earlier this month following a honeymoon trip to Washington state.
"I felt like I wasn't myself," he said. " I couldn't do anything."
After developing flu-like systems that lasted for 10 days, Litzinger visited the hospital, he said. Physicians did not immediately diagnose him as having the virus, he said.
"Originally they thought it was from being reintroduced to the chemicals at work," said Litzinger, who works in an auto body shop. It wasn't until a blood sample taken at the hospital tested positive for West Nile at a state health lab in Helena that the actual cause of his illness became known, he said.
Hospital spokeswoman Kathie Newell could not be reached for comment today.
The blood sample was sent to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services for testing, Hill County health director Cindy Smith said today. The DPHHS notified county officials on Friday that the sample tested positive for West Nile, she added.
Smith emphasized that Litzinger is the only confirmed human case of the virus in Hill County.
"Out there in the community, there's a lot of talk about people having West Nile," she said. "But they need to realize that this is the only case that has been confirmed by the state."
The sample will also be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for further testing, Smith said.
It has not been determined whether Litzinger contracted the virus in Hill County or in another location, Smith said.
Litzinger said he believes he may have contracted the virus after being bitten by mosquitoes while repairing hail damage to his Havre home earlier this month.
West Nile is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Although birds and horses are especially susceptible to the virus, symptoms in most people are mild, including fever, rash, and head and body aches. The virus can cause brain swelling and death, but those instances are rare, county sanitarian Clay Vincent said today.
"Most people won't even know they've been bitten by a mosquito with West Nile," he said.
The disease affects people with weakened immune systems more severely, Smith said. Colorado has had a number of fatalities resulting from the virus, she said, adding that the majority of he victims were elderly.
Litzinger's case was one of six new human cases of West Nile that were confirmed Friday by state health officials.
Smith said she had been expecting the spread of West Nile to Hill County. Several cases were reported in neighboring Blaine County last week. Smith said she also anticipates the number of Hill County residents testing positive for the virus will increase.
County officials are working with health care providers to stay on top of the issue, Smith said.
"We need to keep close vigilance and work with physicians to recognize the symptoms," she said. " People demonstrating symptoms need to be tested."
The confirmed case in Hill County comes less than a week after the County Commission formed a mosquito control district. The district will cover Havre and the immediate surrounding areas.
A group of local residents lobbied for the district amid concerns about West Nile and quality of life. Voters will be asked to support a funding measure for the district on the November general election ballot.
Hill County's case raises Montana's total number of West Nile cases among people to 17. Two of the new cases are in Cascade County. Custer, Fallon and Rosebud counties each have their second confirmed cases. Other confirmed cases are in Big Horn, Blaine, Dawson, Prairie, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Stillwater and Yellowstone counties.
State figures also show 62 horses have tested positive for the virus. Montana's first case was confirmed a year ago in a Yellowstone County horse.
People can reduce the risk of contracting West Nile by taking precautions to prevent mosquito bites. A phamplet distributed the Hill County Health Department suggests using insect repellents that include the chemical DEET and wearing long pants and shirts. People should also empty sources of standing water where mosquitoes are likely to breed.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.