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West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus Symptoms and Care

 

Q: What is West Nile virus?
A: West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord).

Q: How is West Nile virus spread?
A: West Nile virus is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird which carries the virus. You or your child cannot get West Nile virus from a person who has the disease. West Nile virus is not spread by person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing, or caring for someone who is infected.

Q: What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?
A: In last year's outbreak, most people who were infected with the West Nile virus had no symptoms or experienced mild illness with fever, headache and body aches before fully recovering. In outbreaks in other parts of the world, some persons also developed a mild rash or swollen lymph glands. In some individuals, particularly the elderly, West Nile virus can cause serious disease that affects brain tissue. At its most serious, it can cause permanent neurological damage and can be fatal. Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) symptoms include the rapid onset of severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness (coma), and muscle weakness. Death may occur in some instances.

Q: Can you get West Nile encephalitis from another person?
A: No. West Nile encephalitis is NOT transmitted from person to person. For example, you cannot get West Nile virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with the disease.

Q: What is the incubation period in humans (i.e., time from infection to onset of disease symptoms) for West Nile encephalitis?
A: Usually 5 to 15 days.

Q: I've been bitten by a mosquito. Should I be tested for West Nile virus?
A: No. Most mosquitoes are not infected with the West Nile virus. Illnesses related to mosquito bites are rare, especially in New York City. However, you should see a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness, severe headaches, stiff neck, or if your eyes become sensitive to light. Patients with mild symptoms should recover completely, and do not require any specific medication or laboratory testing.

Q: How is West Nile encephalitis treated?
A: There is no specific therapy. In more severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, i.e., hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, airway management, ventilatory support (ventilator) if needed, prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.

Q: What proportion of people die when infected with West Nile virus?
A: Fewer than 1% of people infected with West Nile virus develop encephalitis, and among those hospitalized with West Nile encephalitis, the case fatality rate ranges from 3% to 15%. Therefore, less than 1 in 1,000 of people infected with West Nile virus die.

Q: Is there a vaccine against West Nile virus?
A: No.

For more information about West Nile virus, call the New York City Department of Health West Nile Information Line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (877) WNV-4NYC or (877) 968-4692.
 

 

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