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Citizens sought for West Nile awareness campaign

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John VanDenBerg heard the warnings on the radio, read them in the local papers, and even saw them on campaign awareness posters. But he never imagined he would get bit by a mosquito carrying the West Nile Virus.

"I did everything wrong because I didn't know," said VanDenBerg, a Paonia resident and noted child psychologist. "I felt invincible."

Early last September, he began experiencing flu-like symptoms. After several days he was hospitalized and diagnosed with WNV. He's required constant care ever since, and only recently began to walk on his own again. While VanDenBerg had a more severe case of the virus, it could be worse. Within days of his diagnosis, the virus took the life of a friend, longtime Paonia resident and noted journalist, Ed Marston.

Of the 96 confirmed cases of WNV in Colorado in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 16 were in Delta County, and eight were in the North Fork Valley.

WNV is most commonly spread to humans through mosquitoes that feed on infected birds. According to the CDC, most of those infected with WNV show mild to no symptoms, about 20 percent experience flu-like symptoms, and fewer than 1 percent develop a serious, potentially deadly form of the illness. Common symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, weakness, skin rash, and swollen lymph nodes. More severe symptoms may include extreme headache, stiff neck, sleepiness, weakness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions and paralysis.

Now part of a national support group for WNV survivors, VanDenBerg is hoping to help prevent others from sharing his experience. He, Marston's widow Betsy Marston, and others who are directly or indirectly affected by the virus are forming a citizen's group with a major goal of starting a public campaign on the dangers and prevention of WNV before warm weather brings mosquitoes to life. The group invites others whose lives have been affected by the virus to be a part of the campaign. They are also seeking people willing to share their stories with the public. Anyone interested in being a part of the effort, wanting to know more, or in sharing their stories, can contact VanDenBerg at 970-270-8692.

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