West Nile virus suspected of sickening East Yaphank man, 38

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When it got to the point where simply shifting his eyes was causing him pain, Anthony Esposito realized it was time to head to the hospital -- this one week after he first came down with a fever.

With his wife and two sons, 10 and 12, visiting family in Italy for the summer, Esposito called a friend to take him to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson on July 5.

Esposito was hospitalized, tested, and within five days diagnosed with West Nile virus, said Ray Luttinger, infection prevention coordinator at the hospital.

Symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus include headache, body aches and fever, and generally show up within two weeks of a bite by an infected mosquito. Most people who become infected with West Nile virus develop no symptoms, health officials say.

Some victims recover within days. Still others can get more severe symptoms, including paralysis and disorientation.

"I don't wish this on my worst enemy," Esposito, of East Yaphank, said of his ordeal with the fevers, the "very, very bad" headaches, the intense muscle aches.

At age 38, Esposito is "not the real poster boy" for West Nile, which more frequently affects seniors, said Philip Nizza, infectious disease specialist in East Setauket. Still, he said, Esposito had "a fever of 103, body aches, a severe temporal headache. He was sick," Nizza said, and spinal fluid tests confirmed he had West Nile.

Esposito's case has not officially been confirmed as West Nile by state standards, as the state health department must make such determinations following a review. Health officials Monday said there have been no confirmed human cases in New York State so far this year.

On Monday, Health Commissioner James Tomarken said that 12 more mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk County. To date this year, 16 mosquito samples and two birds have tested positive for West Nile virus.

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By other counts, Esposito, also diagnosed with meningitis resulting from West Nile, is a rarity when it comes to the virus, most often transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. Just 20 percent to 30 percent of those infected develop any symptoms at all, and fewer than 1 percent of those who do end up getting "a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis or meningitis," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also says that people 60 years of age and older are among those most at risk for a severe case.

On Long Island, there have been 15 West Nile deaths in Nassau County since 1999, with seven in Suffolk since 2000, with many of those who succumbed being elderly, according to both counties' health departments.

Following state guidelines, Nassau and Suffolk do not release potentially identifying details, such as age and specific community, about people who contract the virus.

Esposito said he wanted to come forward to "get the story out" as a warning to others.

For him, the fever started June 29, he said, with symptoms progressing until the morning of July 5, when he woke up in pain and with a high temperature.

Four days later, after learning of his diagnosis, Esposito was released from the hospital, told to take it easy, stay out of the sun, and take some time off work.

Speaking a week ago on his first day back on the job as a mechanic for a major utility, Esposito said a doctor also told him that "West Nile is a virus. It's just like a cold. You have to let it do its thing. It will pass on its own."

As for the mosquito that likely would have transmitted the virus, Esposito, who lives in a wooded area, said, "I could have contracted this anywhere. I really can't pin it down where."

In light of his ordeal, he said, "It's made me more aware of my surroundings, especially for my children." That translates to his being "pretty paranoid" when it comes to checking his yard for standing water, which is where mosquitoes can breed, and applying insect repellent.

Recalling hospital professionals coming into his room wearing protective masks and his truly believing he was on his deathbed, Esposito said, "I thank God every day."

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That reflects the observation of one of his doctors, who said: "Thank God you're a younger guy and have your health. Your age and health saved your life."

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