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West Nile Virus

Overview

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by a mosquito bite. The virus can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

West Nile virus was discovered in 1937 in the West Nile district of Uganda. Interest was created when West Nile appeared in the United States for the first time in the New York City area in August 1999. There were 62 confirmed human cases and 7 deaths during this outbreak, creating widespread concern. In a little more than a year, West Nile spread to 11 states along the East Coast. In 2002, the virus spread to Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Cases have also been found in the Dakotas, Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.


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Causes

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected by biting birds that harbor the virus. The virus does not spread from person to person or from infected birds to humans without a mosquito bite. The virus has now been found in 111 bird species and about a dozen mammals.

Other Causes are blood transfusions, organ transplants, breastfeeding and even during pregnancy from mother to baby, though these have been uncommon.


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Signs & Symptoms

Diagnosing West Nile virus infections is usually done through a mixture of monitoring signs and symptoms along with specialized molecular biologic testing for the virus itself. Milder WNV illness improves itself and people do not need to seek medical attention, though if the symptoms persist or get severe medial attention should be taken. Positive diagnosis of West Nile virus infection is generally done by a DNA test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or viral culture of fluid around the spinal cord. The doctor sends both blood samples and spinal fluid samples, obtained by lumbar puncture, to a specialized outside laboratory for these tests.

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Prevention

The only way to reduce your risk of contracting West Nile virus is by avoiding contact with mosquitoes during the months of April to October. Insect repellent containing 10-30% DEET solution should be used. Children should not use a DEET repellent stronger than 10% strength. Clothing can be sprayed with repellents containing permethrin or DEET because mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing. Do not apply repellents containing permethrin directly to exposed skin. Citronella, commonly used in outdoor candles, is a good deterrent against mosquitoes.


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Treatments
Intensive Supportive Therapy Modern Medicine

There is no known successful antiviral treatment or vaccine to prevent West Nile virus. Milder illnesses do not require treatment. In severe cases of West Nile virus, intensive supportive therapy is indicated. This includes hospitalization, IV fluids and nutrition, airway management (some people may need a tube to keep the airway open), ventilator support (some people may need a machine to help them breathe), prevention of secondary infections, as well as good nursing care.

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