West Nile Fever Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

West Nile fever is a viral flavivirus spread by mosquitos. The disease originated in Uganda in 1937 then spread out to other parts of the world. West Nile virus reached the west in 1999. Over the next five years, the virus spread to the US, Canada, Latin America and Europe.

Because symptoms of infection are so mild, it’s hard to track the condition once contracted. If left untreated, West Nile virus could lead to permanent brain damage. In severe cases, it causes violent seizures, memory loss, and death.

Signs and Symptoms of West Nile Virus

A high fever that never goes away after several days is a telltale sign of West Nile fever. It’s followed by searing headaches, stiff neck muscles, and disorientation. Twitching, lack of coordination and convulsions could also point to West Nile fever. In severe cases, the patient could slip into a coma.

Although the symptoms will only last for several days, symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis will remain far longer. And these could lead to neurological damage. Usually, the symptoms will go away on their own. But if the infection becomes severe, have yourself checked right away.

Causes of West Nile Virus

Infected mosquitoes transmit this virus. The mosquitos contract the disease from infected birds. West Nile virus cannot be transmitted through touching or kissing. It’s not acquired sexually either. However, there were cases wherein West Nile virus was transmitted through blood transfusion and organ transplantation.

There are also rare cases wherein West Nile virus was transferred from lactating mothers to their babies. However, there is no verified evidence of contracting this infection through breast milk. The US Centers for Disease and Control Prevention recommends continuing breastfeeding to keep infants healthy.

West Nile fever is common during the summer season where mosquitos come out to breed. When bitten by infected mosquitos, symptoms will manifest from3 up to 14 days later.

Treatments and Prevention

In mild cases of infection, some patients do not require medication at all. They are given over the counter pain relievers to treat headaches and muscle pain.

For severe cases, there is no treatment for encephalitis or meningitis. Most hospitals will administer supportive drugs intravenously until the patient recovers. When it comes to the West Nile virus, prevention is better than the cure. There is no vaccine for this virus.

To protect yourself from mosquitoes, eliminate their breeding grounds in and around the home. That includes removing stagnant water, unclogging the gutters and changing water in birdbaths. Remove unused containers or old tires that hold water.

If you’re venturing outside, we recommend slathering mosquito repellant lotion. Mosquitoes are more active at night so wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants. These pests are also drawn to dark-colored clothing too. As such, wear light colored clothes to minimize insect bites.

When you’re heading out with your children, keep them protected from mosquito bites as well. Apply mosquito repellant creams all over, especially on the arms and legs.  Finally, cover the playpen or stroller with mosquito netting.

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