Testing underway for West Nile virus as a survivor recovers



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Posted on March 8, 2013 at 11:43 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 9 at 12:16 AM

GRAPEVINE - For almost a quarter of a century, Brandt Leondar has taught band at Grapevine High School.

"I'm still at it," he explained, "still willing to fight back from being dead in a bed."

The West Nile virus almost killed him. Within a week of a mosquito biting him last August, doctors doubted he would survive, because his brain was swelling.

"Luckily, I had brain activity, so no one pulled the plug on me too fast," said Leondar, 52.

He spent five months at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas where he even had to learn to walk again.

"I could barely even drink," Leondar said. "Eating was a problem. I had to be retrained how to eat, because damage to the throat muscles and swallowing mechanism - that was all messed up."

Health experts said another mild winter in North Texas really has nothing to do with the number of mosquitoes that are possible later in the summer. Mosquitoes hibernate during the winter and the West Nile virus is carried in by migrating birds who fly through North Texas.

"The mosquito bites the bird. The bird is the carrier of the West Nile virus. Then the mosquito turns around and bites a human and transmits the West Nile Virus," said Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

Dallas County is already testing for West Nile. In fact, it started testing year-round now after the deadly outbreak in 2012.

Tarrant County commissioners approved spending $513,000 recently for a two-year plan to attack the West Nile virus. Tarrant County plans to quadruple the number of mosquito traps across the county, add two staff members, two spray trucks, and change their approach -- when a mosquito tests positive, they'll spray, instead of waiting for a human case.

Both Dallas and Tarrant counties are finding mosquitoes, but fortunately, none carrying the virus.

There is a bright spot to Leondar's story. Doctors say he doesn't have to worry about getting the virus again, because his body is now immune to it.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com