BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — It was last summer, when Jennifer Zoratti was bitten by a mosqito here in Western New York. A month later, she was diagnosed with the West Nile Virus.
"We need to be more aware of this because it could quite literally turn anyone else's life upside down, we never thought we would end up losing her over this," said her cousin Shannon Miller.
Jennifer was a mother of three, a real estate agent and a school monitor at Kenmore East High School. Her family describes her as the life of the party.
"Jennifer was the light in everyone's life, great smile, wonderful personality, just a beautiful, shining person always," said Miller.
Her parents say people gravitated to her, she was a person you just wanted to hug.
Jennifer started experiencing flu-like symptoms and then doctors told her it was West Nile. Her family suspects she got bitten when out at one of her son's baseball games.
The virus took over Jennifer's respiratory system, left her in a coma and paralyzed her diaphragm, making it hard to breathe or swallow, according to her family.
She eventually rebounded and had been feeling much better. But over the weekend, she suddenly passed away.
"We know we have West Nile in Erie county...August is when we start to see the most [cases]. So now is the time to think about protecting yourself," said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.
Most people who get the virus never even know they have it, according to Dr. Burstein.
"80% don't develop any symptoms and they never know they were infected...it's only rare, like one out of 150 people that do develop a serious disease," said Dr. Burstein.
Jennifer's family needs your help. She leaves behind three children, ages 17, 15 and 9. Loved ones have set up a GoFundMe page to pay for their college educations.
They're also accepting donations to the Education Fund for Children of Jennifer Zoratti, where you can send checks to 404 Forest Edge Dr., E. Amherst, NY 14051.
To protect yourself from mosquito bites, Dr. Burstein has a few recommendations:
- Avoid going outside around dawn and dusk
- Make the environment less hospitable for mosquitoes to breed
- Avoid letting water pool near your home
- Make sure windows and doors are in tact
- Protect your skin with EPA-recommended bug spray containing deet
For more information on the virus, check out the CDC's website.