West Nile Neurological Threat: This Virus Can Cause Encephalitis, Meningitis, Etc.

West Nile virus, an illness that tends to increase in the summer and autumn seasons, can become a serious neurological risk to humans. It is transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes, who contract the disease from infected birds. The illness can be spread to both humans and other animals when these mosquitoes bite them. Scientists believe the West Nile virus has been on the North American continent since at least 1999, and also thrives in Africa, West Africa, and the Middle East. Other forms of what are called “flaviviruses”, which the West Nile virus falls under, are present on all the other continents, especially in more tropical areas.

West Nile virus has the potential to take three courses: the majority of people (about almost 80%) will not develop any illness, about 20% will develop West Nile fever, and less then 1% will develop neuroinvasive disease. Those who develop West Nile fever will generally have flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, fatigue, aches, and swollen lymph glands. This can endure for several days or up to several weeks. Neuroinvasive disease, the most serious condition, affects a person’s nervous system. West Nile encephalitis involves the inflammation of a person’s brain. Meningitis is the inflammation of the membrane surrounding the spinal cord and brain. When both inflammation of the brain and its surrounding membrane occur, this is termed meningoencephalitis. Finally, poliomylelitis is inflammation of the spinal cord. Early symptoms for the neuroinvasive illnesses include high fever and severe headache. These symptoms should be reported to a doctor immediately, since these cases generally need hospitalization.

There is no exact cure for West Nile fever or the neuroinvasive forms of West Nile virus. Like the flu virus, these cases must generally be waited out until they run their courses. Hospitalization for the neuroinvasive forms is necessary for hydration, respiratory therapy, and the prevention of secondary infections. Prevention of the virus includes applying insect repellent, avoiding peak hours of mosquito biting times (dawn and dusk), removing any kind of outdoor standing water, wearing protective clothing, and making sure household window screens are intact.

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