West Nile Virus is a virus spread through mosquito bites and can infect humans, birds, horses, and other animals. It has spread globally and become an increasing problem in the United States, with over 30,000 Americans infected since 1999. As of October 2012, a West Nile outbreak had reached 48 states. There were 219 deaths out of at least 4,725 confirmed cases, the highest number of cases reported since 2003.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of West Nile Virus
West Nile Virus is spread most often between July and September. People living in Western and Midwestern states, especially Texas, have the highest likelihood of getting infected. Spending more time outdoors, a weak immune system, or being over age 50 are other risk factors that make you more susceptible to being infected. To know for sure that you have West Nile Virus, you can ask your doctor about diagnosis methods like complete blood count (CBC), head CT scan, head MRI scan, and lumbar puncture and Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) testing.
If infected, symptoms can take up to two weeks to show up, and last for almost a week. 80% of infected people are sub-clinical, meaning that they will experience no symptoms at all. The other 20% will experience mild symptoms such as headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, body aches, and in some cases, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach, and back. Serious symptoms only show up in 1 out of 150 patients, where they may experience headaches, high fever, muscle weakness, tremors, coma, disorientation, convulsions, vision loss, numbness and paralysis.
West Nile Symptoms can be Treated by OTC Medications
There is no vaccine for West Nile Virus, but for milder symptoms, fever and headaches can pass on their own, or patients can use over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil to ease headaches and muscle aches. To treat severe symptoms of West Nile, patients need to go to the hospital and receive help with breathing, nursing care, and supportive treatment including intravenous fluids.
The 2012 outbreak brought awareness to steps people can take to avoid mosquito bites and avoid West Nile Virus. One way to prevent getting infected is to use mosquito repellent with DEET. You can also dress in long pants and long sleeves, and be especially careful about being outdoors at dusk and dawn. Finally, you can control your home environment by draining any standing water, such as kiddie pools or bird fountains, where mosquitoes like to breed.