Calm your fears with facts. West Nile Virus is a rather exotic virus, however most infections in humans, which are exceedingly rare, result in a mild fever and flu-like symptoms. It is estimated that 1 out of every 150 people infected with this virus will develop the more serious encephalitis, meningitis or both.
What is West Nile Virus?
West Nile Virus is a ‘flavivirus’ commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East. It is closely related to the St. Louis Encephalitis Virus found in North America. The virus can infect humans, birds, mosquitoes, horses and some other mammals.
West Nile fever is a case of mild disease in people, characterized by flu-like symptoms. West Nile fever typically lasts only a few days and does not appear to cause any long-term health effects.
More severe disease due to a person being infected with this virus can be “West Nile encephalitis,” West Nile meningitis or West Nile meningoencephalitis.” Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain, meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord, and meningoencephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain and the membrane surrounding it.
What are the symptoms?
Most people who are infected with the West Nile virus will not have any type of illness. It is estimated that 20% of the people who become infected will develop West Nile fever: mild symptoms, including fever, headache, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body and swollen lymph glands.
The symptoms of severe infection (West Nile encephalitis or meningitis) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. It is estimated that 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease.
When should I see the doctor?
Contact your health care provider if you have concerns about your health. If you or your family members develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness, and severe headaches, you should see your doctor immediately.
Self-care / Prevention
Prevention of West Nile associated illnesses is focused on avoiding contact with mosquitos. Contrl measures are being implemented throughout Canada, and there are a umber f steps you can take to protect you and your family from mosquito bites as well:
- Spray clothing with repellents containing permethrin or DEET since mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. Do not apply repellents containing permethrin directly to exposed skin. If you spray your clothing, there is no need to spray repellent containing DEET on the skin under your clothing. When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors.
- Place mosquito netting over infant carriers when you are outdoors with infants.
- Consider staying indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening, which are peak mosquito biting times.
- Install or repair window and door screens so that mosquitoes cannot get indoors
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus infection. In more severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, often involving hospitalization, intravenous fluids, airway management, respiratory support (ventilator), prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.