West Nile Virus Symptoms and Treatments

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Similar to an influenza infection, the symptoms of West Nile virus can leave a person feeling anywhere from a bit yucky to horribly ill. However, unlike the flu, a West Nile infection can cause meningitis and encephalitis in rare cases.

Nearly 80 percent of people who contract the West Nile virus — transmitted from the bite of an infected mosquito — never become sick. Almost all of the remaining 20 percent suffer only mild symptoms, which include

  • Body aches

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Rash on the chest, stomach, or back

  • Swollen lymph glands

  • Vomiting

Less than one percent of people who become sick from exposure to the West Nile virus suffer serious illness. In these folks, the virus attacks their neurological system. Specifically, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). These conditions can cause permanent neurological damage and even death. Symptoms of the more serious effects of West Nile include

  • Coma

  • Convulsions

  • Disorientation

  • High fever

  • Neck stiffness

  • Numbness

  • Partial paralysis

  • Severe headache

  • Stupor

  • Tremor

  • Vision loss

West Nile virus can also cause acute flaccid paralysis. This sudden weakness in the arms, legs, or breathing muscles occurs because the virus has attacked the spinal cord.

There are no medications that cure West Nile virus. Most people are able to fight off milder infections on their own, with the help of bed rest, over-the-counter analgesics, and plenty of fluids. The symptoms of West Nile virus usually last a few days to a couple weeks.

The unfortunate few who develop encephalitis, meningitis, or acute flaccid paralysis may require intravenous fluids, anticonvulsants to prevent seizures, or anti-inflammatory corticosteroids to reduce swelling and pressure. These sufferers may experience long-lasting neurological problems, such as muscle weakness. In some instances, these problems remain for the rest of the person’s life.

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