Health watch: West Nile virus

By Abigail Keefe
September 9, 2004

West Nile virus is something many have heard about, but few give much thought to. First identified in 1937 in eastern Africa, West Nile virus was not identified in the US until 1999.

The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, which are thought to have obtained the virus when biting an infected bird, “is a type of organism called a flavivirus and is similar to many other mosquito-borne viruses,” according to Yahoo! Health. The highest amounts of the virus are carried by mosquitoes in the early fall (late August-early September).

Aside from being transmitted by mosquitoes, the virus may be spread through organ transplantation and blood transfusions. According to Transfusion Medicine professionals at Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, NJ, “Blood donations are screened using a serologic test which has significantly reduced the risk of West Nile virus in blood transfusions.”

West Nile fever develops in approximately 20% of those who become infected. The incubation period for the onset of disease symptoms is three to 14 days.

Some symptoms that may occur, and last for three to six days, are back pain, fever, muscle aches, nausea, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, sore throat and lack of appetite. Muscle weakness, confusion, stiff neck, and loss of consciousness can transpire in more severe disease.

When looking for signs of West Nile virus infection, there is nothing that can be found on a physical examination although a rash is present in 20-50% of patients. There are diagnostic tests that can be run if the virus is suspected. A complete blood count, lumbar puncture, head CT scan and a head MRI scan may be done.

Serology is the most accurate way to diagnose infection. According to Yahoo! Health, this test is “used to detect the presence of antibodies against the virus in spinal fluid or serum,” which is the liquid that remains after the blood has clotted.

In terms of treatment, antibiotics are not helpful in treating the infection because the illness is not caused by bacteria. There are no human vaccines available now.

Several things can be done to prevent against the West Nile virus infection. Avoiding mosquito bites. This can be done by using repellant products that contain DEET and keeping skin covered. To control breeding, stagnant water should be drained and community spraying may be done.

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Abigail Keefe

Abigail Keefe is a Cabrini College student studying communications, enjoying her time in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Abbie loves working for the school newspaper, the Loquitur, and is also passionate about everything that the communication field has to offer.

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