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Great Falls woman dies from West Nile Virus, daughter speaks out

(GREAT FALLS) According to the Cascade City-County Health Department, in 2018 there were 11 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus.

“We never in a million years would have thought that my mother would have contracted West Nile Virus,” Lisa Lawhon said.

Today, Lawhon is advocating for awareness of the virus she says took her mother’s life.

“It’s a disease that doesn’t happen that often. People just hear about it and say, ‘Oh wow’ and then go about their day,” Lawhon said.

Lawhon describes her mother, Carolyn Lawhon, as outdoorsy and loving.

“She was the happiest when she could go to the mountains,” Lawhon said.

Lawhon believes her mother’s love for fishing, camping and always being outside is what caused her to contract West Nile Virus.

“She has the worst stage of what you can get with West Nile Virus. We just feel that people need to know just how devastating it is and what it can do to a person,” Lawhon said.

CCHD reports that WNV is carried by infected mosquitoes and is transmitted to humans by a bite.

Symptoms include: fever, headache, body ache, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea and rash.

“She went from somewhat conversing and knowing who everybody was to not even being able to know what was happening around her,” Lawhon said.

It’s reported that only 20 percent of people infected with WNV will develop symptoms.

“At the end where her health started getting bad with the infection, she was imagining things, seeing things, had some really strange ideas. She thought she was somewhere else,” Lawhon said. “That part was hard for me to see. She wasn’t her anymore.”

Lawhon is an RN and said she has never seen anything like this before.

“I’ve never taken care of anyone, never knew anybody who had it. The care for someone who has WNV is supportive care,” Lawhon said.

Lawhon’s mom would spend four months in three different hospitals and one nursing home before the virus would take her life.

“My mother was definitely someone that would say something if she thought she could help somebody. That’s what I feel like that if I could tell the people of Great Falls that you really need to be aware of mosquitoes,” Lawhon said.

Carolyn died just one week before her 76th birthday in November of 2018..

“Hopefully by hearing what I have to say, people will make sure they don’t have standing water in their yard, and they’ll protect themselves against bites with sprays,” Lawhon said.

Cascade County Public Works said they have already started spraying this year.

“If you as a person who lives in this community, doesn’t feel that you’re county or city are doing what they should be, you should let them know,” Lawhon said.

The CCHD said it is difficult to say why there were so many cases in 2018, but it is likely connected to the wet spring and significant flooding, both of which counteracted the mosquito control preparations made by the county.

The CCHD is reminding people of the four Ds.

  • DEET: always use an insect repellant with DEET
  • DRESS: wear long sleeves and pants
  • DRAIN: standing water
  • DUSK & DAWN: mosquitos are more active at dusk and dawn
Elizabeth Transue

Elizabeth Transue

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