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The media is a wonderful avenue for news and information about current topics. The media is also notorious for raising alarm and concern where none is needed. The West Nile Virus is a real concern, but no reason for mass hysteria. News is news if people are talking about it, and the West Nile Virus is one subject that has been used to alarm people. So, today I will shed some light on the subject – and try and dispel some myths that are going around.

What Is The West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus is an infection transmitted by mosquitoes. If you become infected with West Nile virus, you may not experience any signs or symptoms or you may experience only minor ones, such as fever and mild headache. However, some people who become infected with West Nile virus develop a life-threatening illness that includes inflammation of the brain.

What Is Your Risks for Contracting The West Nile Virus?

Your overall risk of getting West Nile virus depends on these factors:

  • Time of year. The majority of cases in the United States have occurred between the months of July and September.
  • Geographic region. West Nile virus has been reported in most of the United States but the Western and Midwestern states have had the highest incidence rates.
  • Time spent outside. If you work or spend time outdoors, you have a greater chance of being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Even if you are infected, your risk of developing a serious West Nile virus-related illness is extremely small — less than 1 percent of people who are bitten become severely ill. And most people who do become sick recover fully. You’re more likely to develop a severe or fatal infection based on:

  • Age. Adults over the age of 50 are at higher risk of infection.
  • Health. Those who have a weakened immune system, such as from receiving an organ transplant, are at greater risk of infection.

What Are The Symptoms of the West Nile Virus?

Most have no symptoms
Most people infected with the West Nile virus have no signs or symptoms.

Mild infection signs and symptoms
About 20 percent of people develop a mild infection called West Nile fever. Common signs and symptoms of West Nile fever include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash (occasionally)
  • Swollen lymph glands (occasionally)
  • Eye pain (occasionally)

Serious infection signs and symptoms
In less than 1 percent of infected people, the virus causes a serious neurological infection. Such infection may include inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or of the brain and surrounding membranes (meningoencephalitis). Serious infection may also include infection and inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), inflammation of the spinal cord (West Nile poliomyelitis) and acute flaccid paralysis — a sudden weakness in your arms, legs or breathing muscles. Signs and symptoms of these diseases include:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Stupor or coma
  • Tremors or muscle jerking
  • Lack of coordination
  • Convulsions
  • Pain
  • Partial paralysis or sudden weakness

Signs and symptoms of West Nile fever usually last a few days, but sign and symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis can linger for weeks, and certain neurological effects, such as muscle weakness, may be permanent.

When to see Your Health Care Provider

Mild symptoms of West Nile fever usually resolve on their own. If you experience signs or symptoms of serious infection, such as severe headaches, a stiff neck or an altered mental state, seek medical attention right away. A serious West Nile virus infection generally requires hospitalization.

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