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Information about West Nile Virus

written by: Balachandar Radhakrishnan•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 6/27/2011

The West Nile virus was first documented in the West Nile province of Sudan, Africa. Since then, there have reports of infection from Middle East, Europe, west and central Asia, and North-, Central- and South America. Usual infection periods are between late summer and autumn.

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    Information about West Nile Virus

    Among the diseases transmitted from mosquito to humans, the West Nile virus is among the most common, second only to Malaria. The West Nile virus was discovered in 1937 in Africa. It is transmitted from an infected mosquito to human beings and domesticated and wild animals. The virus causes what is referred to as West Nile fever. In some rare cases, the West Nile virus can cause meningitis or encephalitis, which can basically be described as a swelling of the brain. The most common affliction is West Nile fever, and is usually observed in children. The virus is also capable of infecting cats, dogs, horses and rabbits.

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    Symptoms of West Nile Virus

    West Nile virus-image released into the public domain by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention West Nile virus generally begins with the onset of a fever, referred to as the West Nile fever. Symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, stiffness of the back and neck, joint pain, rashes and mild fatigue. A healthy body with an active immune system is capable of handling this infection, and the afflicated person will begin to recover within a week to 10 days. The more severe form of the infection, encephalitis, includes the aforementioned symptoms in addition to severe fatigue, a reduced state of consciousness, and heightened tendon reflexes. The reflexes return to normal during convalescence. Encephalitis is much more common among affected individuals with a compromised immune system such as HIV/AIDS patients, young children and the elderly.

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    Prevention & Care

    The only way in which the West Nile virus can be transmitted to humans is from mosquitoes. One cannot catch the West Nile virus from infected pets or neighbours. Because the modes of infection are limited, it does not pose considerable risk. Most healthy individuals can weather a West Nile virus infection with few or no symptoms at all. However, children and individuals with compromised immune systems should be careful.

    Because this is a mosquito borne infection, keeping your surroundings clear of mosquitoes can go a long way toward preventing infection. Measures that reduce mosquito infestation can be used to stave off infection, including use of mosquitocidal agents and prevention of stagnating water in empty containers, vessels, or birdbaths. Keeping your environment clean and dry not only prevents you from infection; it also prevents infection of your pets. If infection does occur, the treatment provided is purely supportive. As a general rule, the immune system is capable of attacking the virus and eliminating it from one's system. However, in the case of a severe infection such as encephalitis, medical care to treat muscle pain, clearing the airway, and treating seizures might be required.

    Presently, there are no vaccines or drugs to treat the virus. Since the immune system is capable of handling the infection it is not perceived as a significant threat. Furthermore, individuals who have already become infected with the virus develop antibodies and their immune systems are capable of fighting off future infections. The total mortality rate of those afflicted with encephalitis is less than 4%.