What is West Nile Virus and Can it Kill You?

Symptoms, treatment and everything you need to know about West Nile virus

Flickr/Rich Magahiz

With the recent detection of West Nile virus found locally in Queens and Staten Island, there is a reminder that the virus is still at large. The first case in the Western Hemisphere was identified in New York city over 10 years ago, and it has spread over the United States. According to the CDC, there have been a total of 1,669 deaths in the U.S. since found in 1999.
We’ve all heard of West Nile, and we know to load up on the bug spray to prevent it, but what exactly is the virus and how can it kill you? Dr. Jorge Parada of the National Pest Management Association provided us with some important information on the subject.

Related: How to Treat Mosquito Bites

What is West Nile virus?

West Nile virus (WNV) is a potentially serious illness found in temperate and tropical regions that is transferred from infected birds to humans by mosquitoes. After the first detection in the U.S. in NYC, the virus spread quickly and now, “WNV activity has now been detected in all 48 continental states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico,” Dr. Parada added. Because the virus is spread through mosquitoes, it has become a seasonal concern, peaking in late summer and early fall when mosquitoes are most active. The New York Department of Health states that there are over 43 species of mosquitoes that have been infected in the U.S. Dr. Parada also notes that sporadic cases of WNV occur at other times of the year in states with warmer weather where mosquitoes survive year round.

Symptoms are usually developed within three to 14 days after being bitten. Also, in a very small number of cases, WNV has been transmitted through organ transplants and blood transfusions.

What are the symptoms of West Nile?

According to Dr. Parada, WNV infections can take different courses, but most cases are mild and self-limited, “In about 80 percent of cases, the infected person will display no symptoms and may not even know they contracted the virus”. But, of the percentage that do become infected, symptoms include fever, headache, loss of appetite, muscle aches, and malaise for three to six days. In the 20 to 50 percent of a bit more severe cases, symptoms include skin rash on the chest, stomach and back, swollen glands, sore throat, nausea, eye pain, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

And in less than one percent of cases, West Nile disease or neuroinvasive disease is detected. Dr. Parada described the seriousness of this infection, “resulting in encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or flaccid paralysis. The symptoms of severe infection can include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, convulsions, muscle weakness, numbness, paralysis and even death.”

According to the CDC, people over the age of 50 have a much higher risk to develop serious symptoms and the number of people who show serious symptoms are about 1 in 150.

How to treat West Nile

Mild cases do not require medical attention and will usually resolve on their own. But, the more severe cases and symptoms may require hospitalization for motoring and support. Dr. Parada adds, “it is important to note that there is no specific treatment for WNV.” If experiencing a high fever and severe headache or other symptoms, immediate medical attention is necessary.

How to prevent West Nile

The best way to prevent West Nile is to avoid mosquito bites. The end of summer proves to be one of the peaks for the virus. Use the best bug sprays, or know how to prevent them in your backyard.

More Related Links:
Are Mosquitoes More Attracted to You?
8 Myths About Bug Repellent… Debunked
Go Green: 9 Natural Mosquito Repellents


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