What is West Nile Virus

Mosquitoes are the bane of many people’s existence. They are also the transmitter of many viruses and parasites that cause countless diseases around the world. One of these illnesses is West Nile virus. While common in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, this virus has also made an appearance in the United States as well.

Some people may be bitten by an infected mosquito and not get any symptoms while others may experience mild ones. There are a few people however who experience life-threatening illnesses as a result of a simple bite from a mosquito infected with this West Nile virus.

Symptoms and Signs of West Nile Virus

As mentioned before, a majority of people infected with the virus will not show any signs of illness whatsoever. However, about 1/5 of the people bitten by an infected mosquito will develop mild illness that doctors call West Nile fever. Some of the symptoms of this fever include:

Only a very small percentage of people infected with West Nile develop more serious infections like encephalitis which is inflammation or swelling of the brain or its protective membrane or even meningitis and paralysis similar to that of polio symptoms. Some of the more serious signs of this disease include:

  • Stiff neck and jerking muscles
  • Bad headaches and high fever
  • Disorientation and mental confusion
  • Overall pain and even convulsions

While the symptoms of the milder form of West Nile virus may last for up to a week, the more serious version can last much longer. Some people do die from West Nile while others are permanently disabled in some capacity.

Cause of West Nile Virus

There are certain types of mosquitoes that seem to harbor the West Nile virus more than others. A mosquito typically will bite an infected bird (a common boarder of the virus) first.

The virus will circulate through the mosquito’s body for a while before ending up in the salivary glands. When the mosquito bites its next victim, either animal or human, it will pass along the virus through the saliva in the bite.

The virus then travels through the bloodstream of its new host where it multiplies. This is usually the point where many people infected by the virus start to exhibit symptoms.

In the more serious cases, the virus breaks through the barrier to the brain causing the meningitis and encephalitis. The incubation period of the virus is typically anywhere from three days to two weeks, depending on the health and immune system of its host.

While the mosquito bite is the primary source of transmission, the virus can be spread through other means. Blood transfusions and organ transplants can pass along the virus. An infected pregnant woman can pass it to her unborn child and the virus can even be passed along to baby through breast milk, although this is rare.

Treatment Options

For many people, there is no treatment as the symptoms are mild and will go away on their own. However, more serious cases like meningitis and encephalitis require hospital treatment of IV fluids, pain relievers and more.

There is also some interferon treatment research being conducted to see if that will work on the more serious cases of West Nile virus.

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