NewsMontana and Regional News


Two men battling West Nile Virus in Billings

Dale Donoven
Posted at 10:20 AM, Sep 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-04 12:21:43-04

Two men have been hospitalized in Billings for several weeks after contracting severe cases of West Nile Virus.

The virus comes from mosquitoes, and while it doesn't show symptoms in 80 percent of it's patients, it can be serious and even deadly in the ones that it does.

One of those men battling the virus is Glendive Sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Blasdel. He said that the last few weeks have come quickly after calling in sick for work one morning.

"I told (his wife) I need to get to the hospital," Blasdel said. "I knew something was wrong. Since then, I don't remember most of it. It was such a blur of just test after test after test."

Eventually, one of those tests diagnosed Blasdel with West Nile Virus. After being life-flighted to Billings, he's now recovering in the Advanced Care Hospital of Montana, located on the city's west end.

"For him to just be down and out was very hard," Blasdel's wife Kimberly said. "It's been a really hard time for our family."

At St. Vincent's hospital, a man from Williston, North Dakota named Dale Donoven is also battling the virus. His wife Cheryl said that he began feeling sick and was quickly life-flighted to Billings as well.

"By the time I saw him, he had a ventilator in and was in a drug induced coma," Donoven said. "It was terrible. I didn't know if I'd see him again."

Fortunately, Dale is making progress, although his memory is still hazy and he is struggling to walk.

"It just takes time," Donoven said. "He still has to use the walker and he probably will when we get home for a bit, but it's way better than it was a week ago."

Blasdel's recovery process will likely be longer. He is struggling with paralysis on the right side of his face and he has lost feeling in majority of his right arm.

"I'm right handed and I lost function in my right hand," Blasdel said. "I still can't use it. I have to use my left hand to move it."

Blasdel has started to be able to slowly squeeze his fingers on his right hand and he is hoping for a full recovery.

"So far, we're hoping that I can get back to normal but it's hard to predict," Blasdel said. "It could be weeks, it could be days, but it could take years."

One of the hardest parts of West Nile Virus is that it affects every patient differently. St. Vincent's hospitalist physician Erica Seas has been treating Donoven and said that the virus is unpredictable.

"It's a viral infection," Seas said. "So, there's no targeted treatment for it. Most patients it does not affect, but for those that do, all we can do is try and provide relief and hope for full recovery."

Some good news for the Blasdels is this fundraiser, which was organized by the Glendive community. Jeremy and Kimberly said that they couldn't be more grateful for the support.

"For me, it's been super overwhelming," Jeremy said. "That's what has gotten me through to this point is the community support."

The mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus rarely travel more than one mile from where they breed, so to keep mosquitoes away from the home, it’s important to regularly empty standing water once per week. For items such as rain barrels, a screen can be applied to the opening to restrict mosquito access. For other mosquito bite prevention tips, check out the "4 Ds" of mosquito bite prevention:

  • DEET-Apply repellent containing an EPA-registered active ingredient, such as DEET, and follow the directions on the package.
  • DUSK and DAWN-This is when mosquitoes are most active. Try to avoid outdoor activities during these times.
  • DRAIN STANDING WATER-Standing water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Drain such areas around your home (gutters, pools, tires, buckets, water bowls, etc.).
  • DRESS APPROPRIATELY-Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks.

Most people who become infected with WNV will not experience symptoms, but 1 in 5 do experience minor illness causing headache, rash, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, about 1 in 150 WNV infections result in severe WNV disease, referred to as neuroinvasive West Nile. When neuroinvasive, WNV can cause severe neurological symptoms including disorientation, stupor, coma, paralysis, vision loss, and convulsions. WNV can be fatal or lead to long-term neurological complications. WNV can also cause severe neurological complications and death in horses.