West Nile virus has been established as a seasonal epidemic in North America that rises in the summer and continues into the fall. West Nile Virus affects the Central Nervous System, and is most commonly spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. WNV occurs approximately 3 to 14 days after a person has been bitten. People who have been infected with West Nile Virus may develop serious and possibly life-threatening illness that requires hospitalization.
About 80 percent of people infected with WNV show no symptoms at all. Up to 20 percent of those infected show mild symptoms such as fever, headache, body ache, nausea, diarrhea, lack of appetite, rash, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes or vomiting. These symptoms usually last 3-6 days, but may carry on for several weeks. Severe cases of WNV are rare and occur in only 1 out of 150 infected people, these symptoms may include neck stiffness, confusion, loss of consciousness, disorientation, stupor, tremors, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis. These symptoms can last up to several weeks and the neurological effects can be permanent.
- Use bug repellents with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) active ingredients. Repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus normally provide a longer lasting protection.
- Wear clothing that covers your skin as much as possible. Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks whenever outdoors.
- Empty all pools of standing water daily; including water from buckets, cans, pool covers, and pet water dishes. Mosquitoes are more attracted to and lay their eggs in standing water.
- Mosquitoes can bite at anytime, however the hours between sundown and sun-up have the highest mosquito activity.
- Install screens on windows and doors to keep mosquitoes outside.
General care for treating any mosquito bite is to wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible. This may help lessen the reaction. An ice pack may help reduce the swelling, and an over-the-counter antihistamine may help reduce itching. If you scratch mosquito bites, you could break your skin, which may lead to a bacterial infection in your skin. Instead of scratching, try applying a hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion.
There is no specific treatment for WNV infection. In cases with milder symptoms, the infection may pass on its own. In more severe cases, medical attention is needed which may include intravenous fluids, help with breathing and nursing care. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are encouraged to talk to their doctors if they develop symptoms that could be WNV to avoid transmission to their offspring. For more information about this virus call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit www.cdc.gov.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes for Health, LifeWork Strategies EAP, Adventist Behavioral Health, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers.