5 Things to Know About West Nile Virus

5 Things to Know About West Nile Virus

Receding flood waters may create the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes and they can cause some pretty bad illnesses. That’s because mosquitoes can carry the West Nile or Zika viruses.

Almost 10 years after the first case was reported in the U.S., Texas still has people coming down with West Nile virus each year during the warm, damp months when mosquitoes breed.

Here’s 5 things you need to know about West Nile virus:

  1. What is West Nile virus?

West Nile is a virus that is spread to people by mosquito bites. People can also become infected through blood transfusions and organ transplants. It can also be spread to pets and farm animals. While most cases are mild, severe cases of West Nile can be life threatening. It is called West Nile virus because it began in the countries along the Nile River in Africa, but hundreds of people are sick with it each year in the U.S.

  1. What are the signs of West Nile?

Signs include fever, headache, body aches, skin rash, and swollen lymph nodes. Severe symptoms may include stiff neck, sleepiness, tremors, seizures, coma and paralysis. Most cases of West Nile virus infection are mild and go unreported. These symptoms can last from a couple of days to a few weeks.

If you have West Nile virus, you will most often show the first virus signs within three to 14 days of being bitten by the infecting mosquito. Around 70 to 80 percent of people who get West Nile won't show any symptoms.

Only about 1 in 150 people will get West Nile disease, which can include encephalitis or meningitis.   

  1. How long does it take to get over West Nile?

These symptoms can last anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks. Those who suffer from the more serious West Nile disease may have a long recovery period. While rare, there can even be permanent neurological damage.

  1. Is West Nile deadly?

West Nile virus can cause a fatal neurological disease in humans. But, roughly 80% of people who are infected will not show any symptoms. 

People at the highest chance of severe illness leading to death are those over 50 or with serious health issues like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease and organ transplants.

  1. How do you treat West Nile virus?

No vaccine or antiviral treatments are available. In severe cases, some people may need to be hospitalized to get care, such as IV fluids, help with breathing, pain meds, and nursing care.

Anyone who has symptoms of severe illness such as mental-status changes, high fever, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light, or confusion should go to an urgent care center or hospital ER right away.

Stop West Nile before it starts. Take proper precautions to avoid the pesky insects that carry the virus, such as:

  • Avoid being outside after dusk in the warm weather months when mosquitoes come out to feed
  • Prevent getting mosquito bites by using insect repellent spray with DEET or for a non-DEET optin, try picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. 
  • Wear loose-fitting long-sleeve shirts and long pants when in places where mosquitos gather, like when camping or having a picnic at the park. Tight weave clothing, like some camping and workout wear, can make it hard for mosquitos to get to you, too.
  • Wear light-colored clothing, because mosquitos are attracted to darker colors.
  • While bug-zappers work well, avoid being in the same area. Mosquitos can be attracted to the light of the zapper, but will be much more likely to change course to you when they sense your body heat.

If you’re concerned about any unusual symptoms you may be having, don’t wait! Call your doctor to get checked out.