Norman Regional Health System

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The West Nile virus has documented cases around the world and first spread to North American in the late 1990s. It has continued to spread across the continental United States as well as Canada. The West Nile virus is mainly spread via the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito can become infected when they feed on an infected bird and in turn can infect both humans as well as other animals. While it is extremely rare, the virus could be spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

The virus can have varying results on individuals based on their central nervous system. While most people infected with the virus experience no symptoms, those who do may have dizziness, headaches, a rash, muscular issues, body aches and/or intestinal problems. It can cause febrile illness which is when the body temperature spikes. People with the minor symptoms are most likely to have a complete recovery, although fatigue could continue for weeks or even months.

Anyone over the age of 60 as well as those with certain medical conditions are susceptible to a more severe impact. These medical conditions may include diabetes, cancer and those with a compromised immune system. While it is very rare, encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, and meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain as well as the spinal cord, are neurological illnesses that could result from West Nile Virus. It has only affected about 1% of those infected by West Nile Virus.

People who spend a lot of time outdoors for work or other activities are at a higher risk because of their increased exposure. Wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks could help protect your skin. In addition, insect repellent with DEET could be beneficial as well. At this time, there is not a vaccination for West Nile virus or medications to treat the virus. There are only over the counter remedies to reduce the symptoms for those with mild reactions. Individuals with severe outcomes may need to be hospitalized. Our best defense is to minimize the potential of getting mosquito bites.

According to Dr. Patrick Cody, Medical Director of Norman Regional Health System's EMSSTAT Emergency Services, "Mosquito-borne viruses are interesting because they are an excellent example of how we can impact a disease by prevention measures. If we use public health resources to reduce mosquito populations and decrease mosquito exposure (ie., the "fight the bite" ads), we can stop the disease in its tracks."