West Nile virus disease is spread by mosquitoes. It is caused when a mosquito bites an infected individual and then another human. This virus was first discovered in Unites states in the year 1999. Since then it has spread widely in the United States. It belongs to the group of flavivirus. This disease is seen to peak in the early fall, and decreases as the weather becomes cooler.
Causes: It is caused by the bite of the mosquito carrying the virus.
Risk factors: The persons most susceptible to developing a full – fledged disease by the virus are the old aged or very young individuals. Those having immunocompromised states like patients having HIV, under prolonged use of immunosuppressive medications, those undergoing chemotherapy. Pregnant women too are susceptible to develop an infection with this virus. It can be transmitted through transfusion of infected blood or organ transplants. An infected mother could spread the virus to her child through breast milk.
Symptoms caused by West Nile virus infection: The symptoms caused may vary from a mild disease to a severe form. A Mild disease may cause some of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, weakness, lethargy, nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss, rash on the body, sore throat, vomiting, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, diarrhea and muscle and body aches. The symptoms usually last for a period of three to six days. The severe form can be fatal in most cases. The most life threatening condition is West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis. Symptoms in the severe form of the illness may be as follows: Confusion, impaired comprehension, loss of consciousness or coma, muscle weakness, stiffness of the neck, weakness of the upper or lower limbs.
Signs and diagnostic tests: On physical examination the patient may be febrile and the overall picture may resemble that of a patient suffering from any of the viral infections. However presence of a rash on the body may be a sign to suspect West Nile Virus infection. In order to confirm the diagnosis, the physician may advice a few tests like complete blood count, Head and Brain CT scan and MRI scan, Lumbar puncture and testing of the cerebrospinal fluid. The most diagnostic test is to check the antibodies against the virus in the blood or cerebrospinal fluid. Polymerase chain reaction tests may be quite helpful.
Treatment: Symptomatic treatment is advocated in all cases. Hospitalization and treatment of the infection may be wise to diagnose and life threatening complication of the virus. Antibiotics are of little help in the treatment of this infection. Most patients bear a very good prognosis after treatment. However patients with West Nile encephalitis or meningitis must be treated with care.
Complications of West Nile virus infection: Though complications are quite rare, it is worthwhile mentioning the complications which are brain damage, permanent muscle weakness and damage and death.
Prevention: Best way to prevent an infection is to avoid mosquito bites by all means. Wearing long sleeves and pants, using mosquito repellant creams or lotions and avoiding stagnation of water near residential areas which provide a main breeding ground for the mosquitoes, may all help to prevent mosquito bites.
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