Earlier this month, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported four new cases of West Nile virus, bringing the state’s total to seven for 2015.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s Epidemiologist, reminded citizens that West Nile virus tends to occur between the months of August and September; so it is essential to protect yourself—and with good reason. Once the outbreak begins, it has a tendency to rise…and can be extremely fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 40 states have reported West Nile virus infections this year with over 90 human cases reported—50 of these cases are neuroinvasive (occurs when the disease attacks the nervous system).
What Is West Nile Virus?
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne “flavivirus” that has African origins. The virus can be spread to humans and even other mammals through mosquito bites. In most cases, West Nile virus occurs during warm weather when the mosquito population is active. Mosquitoes get infected when they feed off of infected birds.
Symptoms can range from mild (i.e. fatigue, flu-like symptoms) to life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention (i.e. inflammation of the brain).
Let’s take a further look at the symptoms associated with West Nile virus.
West Nile Virus Symptoms
Less than one percent of people infected with West Nile virus experience a serious neurological infection. The infection could include inflammation of the brain and the surrounding membranes. A serious infection may also include inflammation surrounding the spinal cord as well as sudden weakness in the arms, legs, and breathing muscles. Here are the most common symptoms associated with West Nile virus:
- Stupor or coma
- Tremors or muscle jerking
- Stiff neck
- High fever
- Disorientation or confusion
- Partial paralysis or sudden muscle weakness
- Severe headache
Approximately 20% of people who are infected with West Nile virus develop a mild infection called West Nile fever. The most common symptoms associated with West Nile fever are:
- Back pain
- Skin rash
- Eye pain
- Swollen lymph glands
Symptoms will typically only last for a few days, but in more severe cases, symptoms could last for weeks. Certain symptoms (i.e. muscle weakness) could be permanent.
How to Prevent West Nile Virus
The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to avoid exposure to mosquitoes. Here are some tips on how to prevent West Nile virus:
- Don’t stand in puddles or damp areas in your yard. (Mosquitoes tend to breed in pools of standing water.)
- Get rid of unused swimming pools in your backyard.
- Change the water in your bird bath to help prevent birds from getting infected.
- Avoid outdoor activities in areas where mosquitoes are most prevalent.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when you participate in outdoor activities; avoid mosquito-infested areas.
- Apply EPA-registered mosquito repellent. Choose a concentration that will best suit the hours of protection you require. The higher the concentration is, the longer it will last.
- Parents should cover their child’s stroller or playpen with mosquito netting while outside.
How to Treat West Nile Virus
In most cases, people recover from West Nile virus without any treatment, but here are a few treatment options:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers can help ease mild headaches and muscle aches.
- There is no cure for encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the meninges), but some people may need hospital-supportive therapy, intravenous fluids, and medication to prevent other infections from occurring.
- Scientists are working on using interferon therapy, a type of immune cell therapy that could be used as treatment for encephalitis caused by West Nile virus. Research suggests that people who receive interferon therapy experience a better recovery process compared to those who don’t receive it, but further research is needed.
Conaway, B., “New West Nile virus cases revealed in some big Mississippi counties,” WMC Action News 5 web site, August 10, 2015; http://www.wmcactionnews5.com/story/29750840/new-west-nile-virus-cases-revealed-in-some-big-mississippi-counties.
“Keep up your guard for West Nile virus, experts say,” ScienceDaily web site, August 10, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150810091901.htm.
“West Nile virus,” Mayo Clinic web site, December 18, 2012; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/west-nile-virus/basics/definition/con-20023076.
“West Nile Virus Disease Cases* and Presumptive Viremic Blood Donors by State – United States, 2015 (as of August 11, 2015),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/statsmaps/preliminarymapsdata/histatedate.html, last accessed August 12, 2015.