WEST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - A longtime fire official in West Baton Rouge Parish is sharing his experience with West Nile Virus in hopes of raising awareness about the dangers of not protecting yourself against mosquitoes.
Robby Smith has quite the story to tell. The WBR deputy fire chief has 30 years of service under his belt. He says helping others is what he lives for. But ten years ago, he says that all changed in what seemed like overnight.
"The first major symptom I remember was severe pain in both my legs," Smith said.
Smith says a spinal tap showed he was suffering from neuroinvasive West Nile Virus. "I just felt like, OK, we know what it is, so now we can treat it," Smith said.
But Smith never fully recovered. The symptoms only got worse. Smith says the pain traveled to his arms and hands. Now, something as simple as writing his name is a challenge, he says, and extremely painful. Smith admits he was never big on mosquito repellent.
"I didn't like the mosquito spray, the smell of it. I didn't like oil on my skin, so I never used it. I was just that type of person that would take the mosquito bites on my arms. Now I regret that," Smith said.
Smith is sharing his story in hopes someone else won't have to suffer the consequences. West Baton Rouge Mosquito Control announced this week one of its samples was the first in Louisiana to test positive this year for West Nile Virus. Superintendent George Bragg says this is just the beginning.
"We've had years here where we have had every site positive," Bragg said.
Bragg says his workers have set 20 trap locations and are checking them at least twice a week to see where more spraying might be necessary. That includes traps with pregnant females and those typically found in flood water.
"With West Nile, one of the biggest dangers is complacency. You hear about it all the time and sometimes you don't, but it's constantly going on," Bragg said.
Bragg urges everyone to repeat the steps they hear every year. Dump or treat standing water, and wear long sleeves and insect repellent.
Deputy Chief Smith hopes his story will serve as a reminder. "It took one mosquito bite to change my life forever," Smith said.
Peak mosquito season typically hits at the end of June and sticks around until fall.