Prior to 2009, Sean Lemoine says he knew nothing about West Nile Virus. A year later he was re-learning how to walk after contracting it.
Lemoine, a healthy 36-year-old at the time, was bitten by a mosquito while working in his yard. A few days later he had a fever, went to a doctor, and was told it was some sort of virus but nothing to worry about.
That all changed very quickly, and as part of the Dallas County Health and Human Services department's annual West Nile Virus awareness campaign kickoff, he recounted his story as a warning to others.
"About four or five days after [the fever started] my vision started to black out," says Lemoine. "I started to throw up. I started to fall down because my balance was off.
"I had developed neuroinvasive West Nile Virus. I had developed encephalitis and meningitis."
Things only got worse from there.
"My wife took me to the emergency room. I woke up three weeks later in the intensive care unit, unable to move. I had been put on a ventilator so I [had a tracheotomy], so I couldn't talk. The pain was excruciating. It's like someone running a blow torch over your body."
Lemoine would spend the next two months in a short-term care unit recovering from multiple blood infections, then spend three months re-learning how to swallow, still on a ventilator, then spend six more months re-learning how to walk, which doctors were not certain he'd be able to do.
He was out of work for a total of 18 months, and even though he's mostly recovered there is permanent neurological damage which causes him to struggle with walking and talking, and his immune system is now compromised, leaving him seriously vulnerable to illnesses like the flu.
"I think we take for granted, 'It's just a mosquito bite,'" said DCHHS commissioner John Wiley Price. "Ladies and gentlemen, it is deadly serious."
Here are some tips from DCHHS to help prevent being bitten during mosquito season, which starts ramping up in April and lasts through November:
DEET - Whenever you're outside, use insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
DRESS - Wear long, loose, and light-colored clothing outside.
DRAIN - Remove all areas of standing water in and around your home. Change water in wading pools, pet dishes, and birdbaths several times a week.
DUSK & DAWN - Stay indoors during dusk and dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active.
"It's an ounce of prevention vs. a pound of cure," says Lemoine. "I assure you, nobody wants to go through what I did."