Unless you live in an area that has been severely affected by the West Nile virus, you might think it is some exotic illness that only affects people in Egypt.
Unfortunately, the virus has spread from where it was first discovered in Uganda and Egypt to Europe, Asia and most recently, the United States.
West Nile Virus
Since it was first found in the North Eastern US in 1999, the West Nile virus has worked its way westward, so that in 2002, there were confirmed human cases in Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and California.
In 2003, the CDC reported that the West Nile virus has been found in 46 states around the US. The only states without any reported cases in 2003 included Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska. And this year, West Nile virus infections have been reported in all 48 states of the Continental United States.
Other West Nile virus facts:
- in 2003 there were 9862 cases of West Nile virus related human illness confirmed to CDC, including 264 deaths.
- in 2002 there were 4156 cases of West Nile virus related human illness confirmed to CDC, including 284 deaths.
- since 1999, more than 30,000 people in the US have gotten sick with West Nile virus.
- cases occur primarily in the late summer or early fall, with a peak in mid-August.
So far, in 2012, there have been a total of 2,636 cases, including 1,405 neuroinvasive cases (meningitis or encephalitis). This is expected to the be worst year for West Nile virus on record.
Although the West Nile virus has now been found in all 48 states of the Continental United States, two-thirds of all cases have reported from six states (Texas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Mississippi, Michigan, and Oklahoma), with 40% from just Texas alone.
So how do you get infected with the West Nile virus? People get the West Nile virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito, with the mosquito becoming infected by feeding on an infected bird. You can not get the West Nile virus from an infected person or other infected animal, such as a bird or horse.
West Nile Virus Symptoms
Fortunately, very few people who become infected with the West Nile virus will develop serious symptoms. The most common West Nile virus symptoms, which usually develop 3-14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, are similar to many other viral infections and include:
- body aches
- skin rash
- swollen lymph glands
More seriously, the West Nile virus can cause encephalitis, with 'headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, paralysis, and, rarely, death.'
There is no specific treatment for a West Nile virus infection, but if you suspect that you or your child has become infected, you should see your doctor. An antibody test can help to confirm an infection, and may be done if your child has severe symptoms. Keep in mind that most people with mild symptoms will not need testing.