West Nile virus is a viral disease spread by the bite of mosquitoes. The virus belongs to the family flaviviridae, the familyof viruses that cause encephalitis and dengue belong to. The West Nile virus rarely produces any serious symptoms and in many people, it remains asymptomatic. In very few people, West Nile virus may cause brain or spinal cord swelling. Signs and symptoms of this disease may disappear on its own after a period of time. Some people may end up with permanent damage like memory loss, brain damage or seizures. The risk of getting serious symptoms and damages with West Nile infection increases with age.
Mosquitoes get the virus from infected birds. The viruses in them are then spread to people and other animals that they bite. The viruses are not spread from the infected animals to people. They are not spread from person to person through close contact. Organ transplantation and blood transfusion are two methods by which the viruses are spread. Some studies show that the viruses may be transmitted from infected mother to baby during pregnancy and birth. It is still not clear whether the virus spreads through breast milk.
The symptoms start appearing about a week or two after the mosquito bite:
- Body ache
- Skin rashes on chest, back and hands
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Swollen lymph glands
These mild symptoms of the disease may last for a week. But severe symptoms, when present, may last for weeks or months.
Some of the severe symptoms include:
- High grade fever
- Stiff neck
- Lack of concentration
- Muscle weakness
All the severe symptoms develop due to problems in the brain and spinal cord. West Nile virus infection causes death in very few cases.
Infection with moderate symptoms may not require any specific treatment and patient may recover with home remedies and rest. Hospitalization and treatment may be required for infection that causes severe symptoms.
One can prevent West Nile infection by reducing the risk of mosquito bite that spreads the virus.
Protect yourself from insects by:
- Use mosquito repellents
- Wear dresses with long-sleeves
- Avoid having puddles of water in and around the house that aids in the breeding of mosquitoes
- Be indoors during dusk and dawn when the mosquitoes are most active