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West Nile survivor tells his story

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- Louisiana's governor is declaring a state of emergency as health officials try to stop a deadly outbreak of the West Nile Virus. Four people so far have died in that state from the mosquito-borne illness. More than 50 others are ill and dozens of additional cases are suspected.

David Hood, Secretary of Health and Hospitals for the state, and a victim of the virus, Douglas Easterbrook, joined CNN from Baton Rouge.


West Nile virus: 2000-2002 outbreaks 


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Easterbrook, so many of us are so unfamiliar with West Nile Virus. But certainly your case is very different. Go back a few weeks. Do you remember when you were stung by a mosquito?

EASTERBROOK: No, sir. I do not.

HEMMER: Do you remember the symptoms, how they came on and what did you feel, sir?

EASTERBROOK: My first symptoms was I was asleep. It was about two o'clock in the morning. And I woke up with probably the worst, or a very severe chill. I dreamed I had fell into a river of ice and water. And I woke my wife up to try to get me warm. That's my first knowing of it.

HEMMER: Did you go to the hospital right away?

EASTERBROOK: No, sir. It was about five days later before I actually went to the hospital.

HEMMER: And during that time did you still have the chills or did you experience other things?

EASTERBROOK: I got rid of that chill that night and the rest of the night was OK and the next day was like a Thursday, I guess. I had a good day Thursday, maybe just a touch of fever or something, but I really didn't feel bad. And Friday I had more chills and the fever started Friday. I went to some birthday parties on Saturday. Sunday I went to church, but Sunday afternoon I came down with a rash over my body. And it was -- I didn't have any Benadryl so I went to the drug store, Wal-Mart, and bought a bottle of Benadryl, because I thought maybe I had eaten something that gave me a rash.

The only thing I'd had up to that time was chills and some fever and the rash. And then...

HEMMER: So you go to the hospital. How long did it take doctors there to diagnose your condition?

EASTERBROOK: Well, I went to two different hospitals. The first hospital could not really help me and they transferred me to a bigger hospital in Baton Rouge. And I think, you know, they have to do a spinal tap and send it off for results. And it took about three or four days for the results to come back before they actually knew that I had West Nile Virus.

HEMMER: What are you feeling today? What are the lingering effects?

EASTERBROOK: Like vertigo. I have a hard time with my balance.


Secretary Hood, what are you telling the people in your taste on how they can protect themselves and what possibly the state can even do at this point?

HOOD: Well, we've declared war on mosquitoes here in Louisiana and we're trying to enlist all our citizens into the fight against mosquitoes. What that means is taking personal precautions such as wearing insect repellant and also getting rid of any standing water on their property.

HEMMER: The state of New York had an outbreak last summer. Have you learned anything from New York or other parts of the country?

HOOD: Well, actually, I think the big outbreak was in 1999 in New York. And since then it's been moving south. We certainly were expecting it here in Louisiana and we were also prepared for it. We began to do surveillance activities on birds and mosquitoes as long ago as March and April of this year and directing our spraying to those areas where it would do the most good.

HEMMER: There are 34 suspected cases right now under investigation. Can you confirm whether or not any of these 34 have been upgraded to West Nile Virus?

HOOD: We're still in the confirmatory process right now and I can't say how many are going to be confirmed, actually. But I expect that we're going to see another significant increase, probably within the next 24 hours.

HEMMER: Given that answer, then, as a state, do you feel you're ahead of the game, behind the game or somewhere in the middle or you're...

HOOD: I think we were better prepared than most states would have been and I think that for the most part we're ahead of the game. In other words, it could have been much worse if we had not started early in our surveillance activities.

HEMMER: Mr. Easterbrook, for those out there who are trying to avoid something that you fell into, what would you tell them today?

EASTERBROOK: I would tell everyone don't stop going outside just because I have the West Nile Virus or because the mosquitoes are out there. But take the necessary precautions and go outside and dump all your standing water, the water under the plants. If you have old tires or tubs or whatever, get rid of the water outside. And if there are mosquitoes out there, see if you can get mosquito spray and spray them. But make sure you put it on yourself before you go outside.

HEMMER: I think it's excellent advice.

To Secretary Hood, in the few seconds we have left here, mosquitoes were everywhere in your state. They're like ants. How do you fight that battle?

HOOD: Well, by trying to get the message out to every citizen in the state. We have four and a half million people in Louisiana. We've got a media campaign going to alert them to the danger and telling them what to do about it. So I think we're just going to hammer that home and we're going to continue our spraying activities and our surveillance activities.

HEMMER: All right, Secretary David Hood down there in Louisiana, Douglas Easterbrook, a victim, too. Hey, take care of your health, OK, Mr. Easterbrook? And thanks for sharing your story.




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