West Nile Virus: What You Need to Know

31 Jul 2018
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Each year we hear stories in the news about West Nile Virus, the disease transmitted through mosquito bites. Unfortunately, this year, West Nile Virus season is off to an early start…this does not bode well for what’s to come. There have been three confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in Texas within the last week (Austin, Dallas, and Galveston). Although Texas health officials report no one has died from the disease this year, it is important to understand what West Nile Virus is and how to protect yourself and your family.

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What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus was first discovered in the West Nile River region of Uganda in 1937.

Today, we know that mosquitoes get the virus from birds they bite, and the virus is spread to humans from mosquito bites. About 8 out of 10 people who contract West Nile Virus experience no symptoms. Most individuals who do get sick from the virus experience flu-like symptoms that generally last a few days, although some report having symptoms that last for several weeks or longer.

When a mosquito takes a blood meal from an infected bird and then bites a human, the virus is transmitted through the mosquito’s bite.

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Those Who Get Sick, Get Really Sick

Approximately 1% of individuals who develop West Nile Virus develop a severe form of West Nile Virus called Neuro-invasive disease. This occurs when the virus infects brain tissue. Individuals experience symptoms consistent with meningitis or encephalitis. The symptoms include fever, stiff neck, headache, seizures, tremors, and paralysis. According to Dr. Vivian, “Some patients develop permanent paralysis or neurological complication.” The primary objective in the emergency department is to identify the disease early and treat it aggressively and quickly to prevent permanent, life-threatening complications from West Nile Virus.

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What to Do

Researchers are working on one, but there is currently no cure for the West Nile Virus. The best way to protect yourself from West Nile Virus is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. If you are outside during those hours, cover up with long sleeves and pants, reducing the amount of exposed skin for mosquitoes to feed on. Also, use insect repellent (spray on clothes, not the skin) and reapply often when outdoors. Look for repellants that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or paramenthane-diol.

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When to Seek Medical Care

If you or a loved one suspect West Nile Virus, it’s important to seek immediate medical care. If you develop a fever, have stiffness in the neck, muscle weakness, vision loss or numbness, go to your nearest emergency room. “The quicker we can diagnose and begin treatment, the better the outcome for the patient,” says Dr. Vivian.

Memorial Village ER is open 24/7, located at 14520 Memorial Drive. Call us at (281) 496-6837.