Every spring, we begin hearing cautions about the West Nile virus, and every so often we hear on the news that someone has died because of it. What is this deadly disease, and what do you need to know about it? To clear up any mystery or confusion surrounding the West Nile virus, here is some important information about it that will help keep you and your loved ones safe.
What is West Nile Virus?
West Nile virus is a virus that can be serious and life-threatening, although most cases are very mild. In North America, it is a seasonal epidemic that is most common in the summer and fall.
How Can West Nile Spread?
By far the most common way that humans get West Nile virus is being bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes are infected after biting infected birds. Mosquitoes can also spread West Nile to other animals, like cats and dogs. There have been some cases of West Nile spreading through blood transfusions, organ transplants, or from mother to child during pregnancy or breastfeeding. West Nile is not spread through contact like touching or kissing.
What are the Symptoms?
Eighty percent of people with West Nile will never experience any symptoms. Up to 20 percent of people experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, headaches, body aches, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph nodes, or a rash on the back, stomach, and chest. These symptoms can last anywhere from several days to several weeks. About one in 150 people will experience severe symptoms, including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, stupor, muscle weakness, tremors, convulsions, vision loss, numbness, coma, and paralysis. These symptoms can last several weeks, and neurological symptoms are potentially irreversible.
Symptoms will usually appear between three days and two weeks after a mosquito bite.
How Can I Prevent West Nile?
Individuals can protect themselves against West Nile by taking care to prevent mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, so stay indoors, or wear long-sleeves and long-pants and insect repellent. Always wear insect repellent with an EPA-registered active ingredient. Keep screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of the house, and empty any standing water like birdbaths and buckets, because it attracts mosquitoes.
Community-based prevention programs are also important. If you see a dead bird who seemingly died of natural causes, notify your local health department.
What Should I Do If I Think I’m Infected?
You do not necessarily need to seek medical treatment for the West Nile virus, because there is no cure or medication for it, and the symptoms will go away on their own. You should consult a doctor if you experience severe symptoms, and severe West Nile may require hospitalization.
Who is Most at Risk?
Some people are more vulnerable to West Nile than others, and they should take extra special care to avoid mosquito bites. People over the age of 50, infants, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk.