Arizona Man Paralyzed, Unable to Speak After Catching West Nile Virus

A 63-year-old Arizona man has been paralyzed after becoming infected with West Nile Virus, according to reports.

Gary Bushko, from Peoria, is now unable to move his hands or his left arm, and also cannot speak or swallow, requiring a feeding tube connected to his stomach, ABC15 reported.

Bushko, who had previously been in good health, was rushed to a hospital on August 25 after collapsing on the floor at his home. The 63-year-old ended up in the ICU where he spent several days.

Doctors at the hospital thought that he had suffered a stroke and he was transferred to the cardiac floor. Tests later revealed that he had contracted West Nile Virus, which was causing viral meningitis that attacked his spine, nervous system and cerebral part of the brain, according to ABC15 reporter Nicole Grigg.

West Nile Virus (WNV) is a pathogen that causes a potentially serious disease known as West Nile fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An infectious disease doctor at the hospital told Bushko's wife that his was the worst case of West Nile fever he had seen in a decade, according to the family.

The virus is most commonly spread to humans via mosquito bites. As a result, cases tend to spike during the mosquito season, which stretches across summer and lasts into fall. WNV cases have been reported in locations across the continental United States.

The majority of people who become infected with WNV do not become sick. But around one in five infected individuals may develop a fever, in addition to other symptoms, such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea and rashes.

Roughly one in 150 infected people develop a serious illness that is characterized by inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissues. This form of the disease can lead to symptoms including headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis. The most severe cases of the disease can even be fatal.

There is no cure for West Nile fever and no specific treatments are available to battle the viral infection. There is also no vaccine for the virus. Patients with severe disease are provided with supportive treatments that may help to improve or alleviate their symptoms.

Doctors have told Bushko that it could take between six months to two years before he recovers, although his long-term outlook is unclear.

Bushko currently has no health insurance and is just over one year away from becoming eligible for Medicare.

The family are searching for a rehabilitation facility that will take him pro bono, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, beds are limited.

"I need somebody to take him for rehab, I mean I need somebody with a heart to just take him to get him back, so he can get stronger, get back home, because he's got the will to fight," his wife, Jennifer Snider-Bushko, told ABC15.

Bushko's brother-in-law, David McFarland, has created a GoFundMe page in order to try and help with the medical expenses.

"Unfortunately Gary has no health insurance -- he had trouble with his premiums on a pension of $1,000 per month -- and planned to be on Medicare in a year. His social security is $2,000 per month, and not enough to qualify for government assistance," the GoFundMe page description read.

"He is now looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars from his ongoing hospitalization, and is now waiting at the hospital on "stand-bye" -- because no rehabilitation facility that will take him pro bono. We are asking for any donations that can help with the impossible medical expenses, rehabilitation; and moving toward eventual home-care etc."

A mosquito biting someone's arm
Stock image showing a mosquito extracting blood from a person's arm. Mosquitoes can transmit West Nile Virus to humans. iStock