West Nile: An Insect Bite to Blame for Man’s Crippling Pain

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Center for Disease Control says this summer's West Nile outbreak is the largest in history. Despite aggressive efforts in states like Texas, 41-people have died from the virus so far and hundreds more have become sick from it.

About 75 percent of the cases are in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota.  Locally, the Kansas City Missouri Health Department says it's investigating two "suspected" cases of West Nile Virus.

A metro man knows full well the debilitating effects of living with West Nile. A mosquito bite changed his life forever. He's been battling the virus for two years.

Darren Epperson's life took a drastic turn in July of 2010 in Colorado when he was bitten by mosqutio on a hiking trip.  The former mechanical engineer says completing miniscule everyday tasks consume his every moment.

"The pain is indescribable," Said Epperson, 35. "I can't... It's like on your legs, when your legs have gone to sleep and the needles come back, that's what it feels like walking all the time,  I tremor. I'm always shaking,  I have twitching,  My muscles are always moving and my wife kicks me out of bed all the time," he said

These are the lasting effects of a litany of illness afflicting Epperson.  The discomfort started in April of 2010 with chest pains and fatigue, In May,  a sickness in Cancun, then two months later a hiking trip in Colorado was cut short.

"I was going to many doctors to find out what was wrong," he said.

But a diagnosis never seemed to fit and meds never seemed to stick until the phone rang later that summer

"The Clay County Health Department actually called me after I was released from the hospital and told me that I tested positive for RMSF and possible Urlickia," he said.

An answer, but not to all the questions

"We sought out an infectious disease doctor at St. Luke's and he diagnosed me with West Nile Virus and because of the prolonged time of allowing it to fester... they determined I had West Nile encephalitis, which is the most life-threatening part of the disease."

Another answer, but, not a final explanation of the source, until a specialist in Columbia diagnosed the 35 year old with Masters Disease, a tick born illness related to Lyme Disease.

"This doctor believes that was what was in my system back in 2010 that was slowly breaking down my immune system and that since I had never been tested for it, it allowed all the other illnesses to get me when my immune system couldn't fight them off, it slowly took me down," he explained

Finally a cause, but it came without a cure

"It's unpredictable, It could be I can't get out of bed because of pain and fatigue, I walk into circles all day, the brain fog,  I lost the ability to process and order of operations, or  I'm in the middle of doing something and it hits me. I start tremoring and I fall. I stumble alot..."

To help, a virtual tool chest of medicine

"I'd say about 60 a day because I take alot of these 4 or 5, you know in the morning, in the afternoon, and at bed," he said.

The meds help pass the minutes and hours and gives Epperson the ability to walk with his buddy, Hoss, who also feels his pain, the Sheppard struggles to saunter along suffering the same Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever afflicting his owner.

"He's an intuitive dog, He knows, He gets it.. He wants to be everywhere i go."

And going from sidewalk square to sidewalk square for mere moments will wipe out the once vibrant hiker, but it won't keep him down

"I take one hour at a time, I'm lucky there is alot of people who have this same illness that are in wheelchair, or on feeding tubes, or are dead,  I really don't think poor me on this deal... I'll  take this over a wheel chair any day. I'll do this for the next 5 to 10 years as long as I can walk and enjoy my family, It's worth it to me"

After numerous trips for testing, Epperson wants every patient to push for further tests if people feel they are necessary, because he thinks a simple blood test early on could have saved him from permanent life changing damage.  He also stresses the dangers of West Nile are real and every precaution should be taken.

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