Similar to an influenza infection, the symptoms of West Nile virus can leave a person feeling anywhere from a bit yucky to horribly ill. However, unlike the flu, a West Nile infection can cause meningitis and encephalitis in rare cases. The West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.
These mosquitoes carry the virus. At first, this condition was linked to people who had traveled abroad and were exposed in other countries but since we first heard about it, cases of the West Nile virus have been reported across the entire United States.
More About West Nile virus & West Nile Virus Symptoms
West Nile virus was first identified in 1937 in the West Nile region of Uganda, in eastern Africa. It was first identified in the US in the summer of 1999 in the Queens borough of New York, NY. It caused 62 cases of encephalitis and 7 deaths that summer. Since 1999 the virus has spread throughout the continental US and as of September 2002 had been identified in 42 states.
The West Nile virus is a type of virus known as a flavivirus. Researchers believe West Nile virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then bites a person.
Mosquitoes carry the highest amounts of virus in the early fall, which is why the rate of the disease increases in late August to early September. The risk of disease decreases as the weather becomes colder and mosquitoes die off.
West Nile Virus Symptoms/ Symptoms of West Nile Virus
- Eye Pain
- Loss of appetite
These symptoms usually last for 3 – 6 days, but may last a month. More severe forms of disease, which can be life threatening, may be called West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis, depending on what part of the body is affected.
Signs and symptoms of serious infection occur in less than 1 percent of infected people. Such infection may include inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or of the brain and surrounding membranes (meningoencephalitis).
Serious infection may also include infection and inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), inflammation of the spinal cord (West Nile poliomyelitis) and acute flaccid paralysis – a sudden weakness in your arms, legs or breathing muscles.
Diagnosis and Tests
Signs of West Nile virus infection are similar to those of other viral infections. There is nothing that can be found on physical examination to diagnose West Nile virus infection.
Diagnostic tests that may be used if West Nile virus is suspected include the following:
- CBC – may show a normal or elevated white blood cell (WBC) count
- Lumbar puncture and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) testing
- Head CT scan – often normal
- Head MRI scan – may show evidence of inflammation (in about one-third of patients).
Less than one percent of individuals infected with WNV will develop severe illness. The severe symptoms can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. WNV can be fatal.
Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for WNV. Those with severe cases should be hospitalized to receive supportive care including intravenous fluids and respiratory assistance.
If you develop any of the severe symptoms, especially an intense headache accompanied fever and a stiff neck, you should see your doctor immediately.
If you do notice that your symptoms are accompanied by worsening symptoms and additional ones like partial paralysis, confusion and stiff neck, see your doctor right away. You could fall into the less than one percent of people who develop neurological complications. An infection in the brain can lead to encephalitis, meningitis or meningoencephalitis.
Any of the orthomolecular and homeopathic treat ments may be used as post-infection treatments as well, to help restore the individual to full metabolic and brain function and excellent health. Their aim is not necessarily specifically to kill the virus. Anti-viral pharmaceuticals, as we have already seen, are ineffective against the West Nile virus.
The aim of the orthomolecular and homeopathic remedies is to restore the body’s function to health, by strengthening the immune system, neutralizing the effects of acute infection, and normalizing the hormonal-endo crine-neurotransmitter balance.
The best way to prevent West Nile Virus is to avoid mosquito bites. Ways to do this include wearing protective clothing, avoiding outside activity between dusk and dawn, eliminating standing water on your property, and wearing a mosquito repellent containing Picaridin, Deet or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus when outdoors. For details and more tips, see our page on mosquito bite prevention.
Adulticides are typically sprayed over a large area, organophosphates, pyrethrins and synthetic pyrethroids typically are used. Piperonyl butoxide is commonly used as a synergist, to eliminate the competitive advantage of those mosquitoes which are resistant to the insecticides.
- Use mosquito-repellant products containing DEET
- Wear long sleeves and pants
- Drain pools of standing water, such as trash bins and plant saucers (mosquito breed in stagnant water)
- Community spraying for mosquitoes may also reduce mosquito breeding.
Homeowners are encouraged to eliminate mosquito breeding sites to reduce mosquito populations. Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing or slow moving water. Mosquitoes will also enter homes through broken screens and open windows and doors. Keep mosquitoes out of the house by fixing broken screens.