It's summer and the annual West Nile virus fears are upon us again. Nationally there does appear to be more reports of infection. So what is West Nile Virus and how concerned should we all be?
West Nile is new to the US, first being reported in 1999. It is a virus that is found in many bird species and in horses. These animals don't get sick from the virus. In the summer months, mosquitoes bite these animals and then bite humans, transferring the virus to us humans. PEOPLE DO NOT PASS THE DISEASE TO EACH OTHER!
Most (80%) people who are bitten do not come down with active disease; they seem to handle the virus. 20% will develop non neurological disease and less than 1% will come down with significant and severe neurological disease. The major symptoms are non-specific, fever, headache, joint pains, sometimes a rash, some nausea and vomiting. Fatigue is associated and sometimes the fatigue can last for weeks.
There are three major forms of the neuological form of the infection. Meningitis with headache and stiff neck; encephalitis with seizures, confusion, specific nerve involvement; flaccid paralysis that can be just on one side and acute onset of limb weakness. These forms are the scary forms and seen particularly in people over age 50.
Being a virus, there is no specific treatment. Diagnosis is by measuring antibodies to the virus, a blood test.
Prevention is mostly avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes. That means type of clothing (long pants, socks, etc) use of DEET (only 10% DEET for children), getting rid of stagnant water.
There have been cases this year in New Jersey.