California woman hospitalized for West Nile virus: 'She just went downhill'

A California woman has spent several weeks in the hospital this month after she contracted the West Nile virus from an infected mosquito. Laura Hardwick’s family said they aren’t sure where the offending mosquito struck, but that she did get several bites while celebrating the Fourth of July in Clovis, ABC 30 reported.

“Around the 7th [of July] is when she started getting the symptoms of being tired had malaise, didn’t want to do anything and it just progressed,” Thomas Hardwick, Laura’s husband, told the news outlet. “Then on the morning of the 11th we brought her in, and she was out of it. She collapsed twice in the ER coming in.”

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West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the U.S., and is most commonly spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are no vaccines or medications to treat West Nile virus, but most people who are infected do not feel sick. About 1 in 5 people may develop a fever or other symptoms including body aches, joint paints, voming, diarrhea or rash, which typically resolve within weeks or months.

“She was healthy, and then overnight, she just went downhill. I mean fast, downhill.”

— Thomas Hardwick

But 1 in 150 patients may go on to develop serious, sometimes fatal illnesses. For these patients, the virus may affect the central nervous system and cause encephalitis or meningitis. Symptoms may present as high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. People over age 60 are at greater risk of developing severe illness, as well as those with underlying medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease or those who have undergone organ transplants.

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Recovery for these patients may also take weeks or months, but some damage to the central nervous system may be permanent.

Thomas Hardwick said his wife was healthy until the virus struck, and she has been at Clovis Community Hospital. A GoFundMe page set up by her children claims doctors said her case was "the most severe case of West Nile they have ever seen." They are hoping she will soon be stable enough to be moved to a rehabilitation facility so she can regain the ability to walk on her own and feed herself.

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“She was healthy, and then overnight, she just went downhill,” he told the news outlet. “I mean fast, downhill.”