West Nile claims life in Quay County

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

Tucumcari’s Alan Bugg lived through a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant in June — but family members said he succumbed to the West Nile Virus on Oct. 7.

Bugg is New Mexico’s second West Nile fatality of the year and wife Catherine Bugg said she is angry that the state’s Department of Health doesn’t do more to educate the public or help put a stop to the flurry of mosquitoes carrying the disease.

“I want to put a face to this crap,” she said. “The Health Department just says a 50-year-old male died of the disease. This 50-year-old male was a person.”

Officials from the New Mexico Department of Health said privacy acts prohibited them from disclosing any more about West Nile victims than their age and county — and they have been issuing releases to educate the public about how they can protect themselves from mosquito bites.

She said Bugg was most likely first bitten in late September on their farm on the eastern edge of town but it took a lot of poking and probing before he was diagnosed with West Nile.

“They did every test in the book,” she said, adding doctors at the hospital tested for diseases carried by cats, livestock and chickens.

“They pretty much went through the laundry list.”

She said her husband entered the hospital on Sept. 24 and it was not until he was transferred to the University of New Mexico four days later and examined by infectious disease specialist Dr. Diane Goad that the family received an answer. By Sept. 30, Bugg was officially diagnosed with West Nile.

“I knew people who had survived the disease,” Catherine Bugg said, adding she thought they had a good chance, especially with a disease specialist in their court.

Bugg said her husband took part in a placebo-based study to treat the West Nile Virus. “He had that chance or no chance and I felt it was the best thing to do,” she said. By Oct. 6, Catherine Bugg said, it was apparent her husband was not responding to treatment.

“The next deal was to surgically implant a feeding tube and a breathing tube,” Bugg said, adding she and her son decided it was time to respect Alan Bugg’s wishes and not keep him alive by artificial means.

“Yes, my husband passed away and it was because of this disease,” Catherine Bugg said. “But one of the main reasons he died was because he was so immuno-compromised. His white blood cell count was zero.”

Bugg said she was told even if he did make a recovery, which may have taken up to 18 months, he might not be able to walk again and his short-term memory would be gone.

“That’s one of the side-effects of this disease,” Bugg said, adding she has read up extensively on various health issues since her husband’s operation.

“I have every medical report he ever had from the time of the transplant forward,” Bugg said. “A colleague of Dr. Goad’s even said it was refreshing to speak to someone who knew what he was talking about. If you don’t educate yourself, you’re screwed.”

One factor that makes her husband’s death especially odd, Catherine Bugg said, is the time of year during which he was infected.

“Most cases of West Nile happen in July or August,” Bugg said. Officials speculate this year’s heavy rains had something to do with the late infection.

In fact, the Health Department reported six of the state’s 29 cases of West Nile this year cropped up just recently.

The 29 human cases of the virus include nine from Dona Ana County; five from Sandoval; three from Valencia; two from Bernalillo; two from San Juan; two from Chaves; and one each from Colfax, Curry, Lea, Luna, Socorro and Quay counties, officials said.

Officials report this year’s animal cases of West Nile include horses in Dona Ana, Catron, Socorro, Otero and Chaves counties; mosquitoes in Dona Ana, San Juan, Chaves, Eddy, Sandoval, Colfax and Otero counties; and birds in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Dona Ana counties.

Last year saw 88 humans affected with the virus in New Mexico,
four of them fatal, while 2003 gave rise to 209 confirmed cases of West Nile, again, with four fatalities.

Throughout the United States, officials said 2,016 cases of West Nile have been reported this year, 55 of them leading to death.

Many people affected with the virus may not even know it, officials said, as they show mild or none of the flu-like symptoms associated with the disease. Officials said in the most extreme cases, most prevalent in those above the age of 50, the virus leads to meningitis or encephalitis; the former is an infection of the membrane around the brain, the latter an infection of the brain itself.

Health officials report less than 1 percent of those infected with West Nile develop meningitis or encephalitis.

Although colder weather keeps mosquitoes at bay, the daily spurts of warmth throughout the state still make for a mosquito-friendly climate, health officials said, and precautions should be taken to protect oneself.

Protection against mosquitoes

• Stay indoors at dawn, at dusk and in the early evening.
• Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks whenever outdoors.
• Products containing DEET or Picaridin can provide longer lasting protection. Use insect repellent products with no more than 35 percent DEET for adults and follow the directions on the label for children from ages 2 through 12. Natural products containing soybean oil or lemon eucalyptus oil have also been shown to be effective but need to be applied more often.
• Keep windows and doors closed if not screened. If doors or windows are left open, make sure they have screens that fit tightly and have no holes.
• Do not allow water to stagnate in old tires, flowerpots, trash
containers, swimming pools, birdbaths and the like.
• Horse owners should contact their veterinarian to have their horses vaccinated against West Nile Virus.
• Inspect repellant should never be used on pets, according to the National Animal Poison Control Center, which is part of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Dogs and cats tend to lick themselves and can ingest toxins, which could harm them significantly more than the West Nile Virus. So far both species have been fairly resistant to the virus.

Source: New Mexico Department of Health

West Nile by the numbers

2 – number of New Mexico fatalities in 2005
29 – number of statewide human cases of the virus in 2005
4 – number of New Mexico fatalities in 2004
88 – number of statewide human cases of the virus in 2004
4 – number of New Mexico fatalities in 2003
209 – number of statewide human cases of the virus in 2003

Source: New Mexico Department of Health