West Nile virus is a potentially fatal disease, which is transferred to humans when an infected mosquito bites a person. The disease, which first appeared in the US in the late 1990s, has claimed the lives of 1,765 people in the US since 1999, asserts the Centers for Disease Control. In the majority of cases, West Nile virus resolves without medical intervention. However, approximately 20 percent of those infected develop West Nile fever, and one percent of those infected develop West Nile encephalitis. To date, the virus has affected people in 37 states, and with the onslaught of hot temperatures and excess rain across the Midwest, the potential for more infections is quickly on the rise. Take a look at how West Nile virus affects the body and the brain and how it can be recognized and treated early.
West Nile Virus Symptoms
West Nile virus mimics many of the symptoms of influenza with a few exceptions. However, most people with the infection never experience any symptoms. For those within the 20 percent group who develop West Nile fever, the symptoms include the following:
- Stiff joints
- Swollen lymph glands
- Pain in and around the eyes
- Body aches.
If West Nile virus progresses into the dangerous West Nile neurological infection, which may affect the brain, surrounding membranes, the spinal cord, or nerves throughout the body, the symptoms may include:
- Fever in excess of 101 F
- Severe headache, such as a migraine and throbbing pain
- Stiff neck
- Inability to focus, confusion, or disorientation
- Seizures, tremors, or muscle spasms
- Partial paralysis
- Total paralysis
- Inability to maintain eye to movement coordination
- Severe pain
- Loss of consciousness, which includes fainting
Unfortunately, the risk of developing the serious neurological infection from West Nile virus increase for those above the age of 50 and with compromised immune systems. This includes those receiving chemotherapy, anti-rejection medications, or immune suppressants, or currently living with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Prevention of West Nile Virus
The key to preventing the development of West Nile fever and neurological infection rests within reducing your exposure to mosquitoes. During the spring through the end of summer, the mosquito population will be the most prevalent, and most infections occur between July and September. The virus tends to be transmitted in Midwestern and Southern states. Spending extra time outdoors also increases your risk for contracting the virus. To minimize your exposure to West Nile virus, follow these steps.
- Wear light-colored clothing. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors.
- Avoid going outdoors during dawn, dust, and the night.
- If you must go outdoors during the cooler parts of the day, apply a mosquito repellent with DEET as the active ingredient.
- Place mesh-netting over infant’s cribs and playpens when outside.
- Purchase a mesh-lined canopy for spending time outdoors during the evening.
- Citronella candles can help reduce mosquitoes in your vicinity.
- If sitting in an area with electricity, have a fan set to oscillate over you and your guests. Mosquitoes cannot sustain flight when the wind from a fan hits them.
West Nile virus should not frighten you into hiding out throughout the warmer months, but it should make you think twice before stepping outside. When traveling outside of the US, remember to take precautions against other mosquito-transmitted infections as well, such as Bot Flies, Malaria, and Hemorrhagic Fevers. You cannot risk contracting the virus, especially if you have any of the above-mentioned conditions and remember a healthy diet can help your body fend off West Nile fever if you do become infected.