West Nile: The Flying Virus

April 24, 2018
By , Hahnville, LA

West Nile, a member of the Flaviviridae family, is an infectious virus that is spreading in different parts of the world. The first documented cases of West Nile was in 1937. A woman in the West Nile District of Uganda had contracted this unknown virus. Thus it is called the West Nile virus. It was originally found in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and West Africa, but recently more cases have been found in North America. In the summer of 1999, West Nile was first recorded in New York City, and from there it quickly spread across the rest of the continent. Scientists have two theories as to why this virus made it to North America: bird migration and infected mosquitos that arrived with the shipment of goods. To be fully educated about the illness of West Nile, one should know the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this disease.
         

The first step in understanding West  Nile is by knowing the cause. It is known that “researchers believe West Nile virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then bites a person”  (Vyas 1). In rare cases, West Nile can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding  (“Transmission” 1). West Nile cannot be transmitted from person to person, by handling live or dead birds, or by consuming the infected birds  (“Transmission” 1). The most common species of mosquito that infects humans is called Culex Pipiens, and the most common infected birds are robins, jays, and crows  (Hoyle 900). Someone who has an outdoor job has a high-risk factor for contracting West Nile  (Hoyle 901). The thought that a disease could be caught through a mosquito bite is frightening to numerous people, especially during the spring and summer  (Hoyle 900). Knowing what causes West Nile is essential for an understanding of the virus.
         

The next step in comprehending West Nile is the various symptoms. Even though this disease can be deadly, “most people (8 out of 10) infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms”  (“Symptoms” 1). In fact, only 20% of infected individuals show symptoms  (Hoyle 900). If an infected body does show symptoms, then it will show one to fourteen days from being infected. The severity of the symptoms ranges. Some mild symptoms are eye pain, fever, headache; loss of appetite; lymphadenopathy; malaise; nausea; rash on neck, torso, and limbs; and vomiting  (Fryer 3). These symptoms can last from three to six days and in some cases a month  (Vyas 2). In some cases, the symptoms are more severe: a severe headache, high fever, acute muscle weakness, neck stiffness, convulsions and tremors, disorientation and stupor, paralysis, and possibly coma  (Fryer 3). In some of the more severe cases, “survivors can be left with permanent damage, such as paralysis on one side of the body, similar to the paralysis seen in cases of polio”  (Hoyle 900). Death is not very common but the average age of infected people who died was 78  (Fryer 2). It is important to fully grasp an understanding of all the possible symptoms of the virus.
         

Lastly, the possible treatments are few, but the many ways to prevent infection vary. West Nile is a complicated disease to treat “Because this illness is not caused by bacteria, antibiotics do not treat West Nile virus infection”  (Vyas 2). Currently, there is no treatment for the West Nile virus infection. Instead, over-the-counter drugs help for mild symptoms  (Fryer 4). For those with more severe symptoms,“[t]reatment of severe symptoms may require the use of intravenous infusions, airway and respiratory management and support, and use of preventive measures against secondary infection”  (Fryer 4). After treatment, the people with West Nile are shown to have improvement  (Vyas 2). Though there is not an exact cure, there are exams and tests that can help researchers in their medical studies blood test, spinal tap, head CT scan, and a head MRI scan  (Vyas 2). There are ways of preventing oneself from being infected avoid standing water, use insect repellent, and wear protective clothing  (Hoyle 903). To further prevent mosquito bites from occurring inside one’s home, keep all screens, windows, and doors closed; use air conditioning; and sleep under a net  (“Prevention” 2). In many large cities, mosquito eradication programs are organized to help prevent West Nile  (Fryer 5). Understanding one’s options for treatment is important for recovery, while knowing how to prevent infection is necessary for future reference.
         

When learning about the infection of West Nile, one must know the causes, symptoms, and treatments of the virus. First, West Nile is caused when a mosquito bites an infected bird and then goes on to bite a person. The symptoms vary from each infected person, some experiencing none and others being left in comas. The chance of paralysis is also possible. West Nile does not have a vaccine or cure. There are only drugs that help with the symptoms of the virus. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been publishing ways to prevent infection in order to keep the percentage of infected people down. The CDC has also been researching this virus further and has now published a new test that will facilitate the diagnosis of West Nile. Hopefully, in the coming future, West Nile will finally have a cure.






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