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Man in a coma after heart attack caused by West Nile virus

A 64-year-old grandfather in Muncie, Indiana, has been in a coma for 19 days after having a heart attack caused by West Nile earlier this month.

Danny Duncan, from Delaware County, went to the emergency room three weeks ago fearing a heart condition – but doctors diagnosed him with the mosquito-borne virus. 

Three days later he suffered a cardiac arrest and is now in a coma, on life support, being fed through a tube. 

His is one of two West Nile cases reported this week.

On Tuesday, health officials in Pittsburgh warned that an elderly woman was hospitalized with the disease in mid-August. She has since recovered. 

Officials in both states where the new cases were reported are urging residents to be cautious while spending time outdoors and reminding them that the mosquito season will not end until October.

Danny Duncan, 64, in Indiana has been in a coma for 19 days after contracting West Nile virus

Humans contract West Nile when a mosquito infected with the virus bites them and mosquitoes get the virus by biting infected birds. 

People who spend much time outdoors have a greater chance of contracting West Nile.

The CDC estimates that 70 to 80 percent of people who become infected with the virus do not experience any symptoms of the disease and 20 percent experience symptoms such as joint pains, body aches, headaches, rashes, vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people who develop these symptoms recover completely but they may experience fatigue for months after contracting the virus.

Less than 1 percent of people who contract West Nile develop life-threatening neurological illnesses, including meningitis and encephalitis.

This was the case with Danny Duncan.


West Nile first appeared in the US less than 20 years ago, in 1999, but it has been detected in all US states except Alaska and Hawaii.

It has also occurred in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

People become infected with the virus during stints of warm weather, as that is when mosquitos are active.

In addition to being infected with the disease via a mosquito bite, one can contract the virus from an organ transplantation or a blood transfusion.

But people who donate blood are supposed to be screened for West Nile so that the risk of spreading the virus is reduced.

Pregnant mothers can also give their child the virus while breastfeeding. 

Duncan went to the hospital three weeks ago because he thought he was having a heart attack, given his history with heart trouble.

He had a heart attack three days after going to the hospital and has been in a coma ever since. He has been diagnosed with encephalitis and meningitis, according to WTHR Indianapolis.

Duncan is on a ventilator and being fed through a feeding tube, as his four sons and 16 grandchildren hope for his recovery at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie.

Symptoms of the neurological disorders people can develop after contracting West Nile include headaches, neck stiffness, a high fevers, disorientation, tremors, paralysis and seizures.

Recovery takes people several weeks or months but some of the effects of the diseases may be permanent and 10 percent of people, such as Duncan, who develop these infections die.

There is no vaccine or medicine that treats West Nile. People who have high fevers as a result of the disease are encouraged to take pain relievers, which can lower one’s temperature.

If someone experiences severe symptoms they may need to be hospitalized to receive intravenous fluids and nursing care.

While people of any age who contract West Nile can develop these life-threatening infections, those over 60 are more likely to experience the severe symptoms.

People who have specific medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, cancer and kidney disease, are also at a higher risk.

June to September is the height of West Nile season but officials warn that the disease can be contracted as late as October.

The Indiana State Department of Health said it ‘anticipates increased West Nile activity statewide throughout mosquito season, lasting until the first hard freeze of the year around late October’.

Officials in Delaware County, Indiana, and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania – where the two new cases have been reported – are warning residents to be cautious throughout mosquito season.

Dr Karen Hacker of the Allegheny County Health Department said: ‘County residents can protect themselves from West Nile-bearing mosquitoes with a few simple personal and environmental precautions.’

One such precaution is avoiding the outdoors during dusk and dawn because that is when mosquitoes are most active.

The Indiana State Department of Health also advises applying an insect repellent that is EPA-registered and contains DEET.

It also recommends covering exposed skin with hats, long pats and long sleeves when venturing into places such as wooded areas that have active mosquitoes.

Installing screens on windows and doors that are frequently left open can also reduce one’s chances of contracting West Nile.

Mosquitoes breed in areas with standing water so residents in these counties should also eliminate any places with still water on their property.

‘Even a container as small as a bottle cap can become a mosquito breeding ground,’ the Indiana State Department of Health said, adding that residents should discard tires, ceramic pots and other containers that can store water.

It said they should also fix septic systems that are broken, punch holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors, clean roof gutters that are clogged and often replace water that they put out for their pets in bowls.