The Top 5 West Nile Outbreak Facts

West nile outbreak hits Dallas hard

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) West Nile has hit the headlines this week, as the city of Dallas has declared a state of emergency as a result of the mosquito-borne illness. Cases have been reported in most states.

So what do you need to know about West Nile virus? If a mosquito bites you, should you immediately go to the doctor's office? How do you know if you have symptoms? Read on for our list of West Nile facts.

"Become aware of your risk from West Nile virus."

1. Not everyone gets sick from an infected mosquito.

Only 1 in 5 people become sick from the bite of a West Nile-infected mosquito. Eighty percent of people won't experience any symptoms.

It's important to know that you can't get sick from direct contact with a person who has West Nile. The only ways it can be transmitted from human to human are through blood transfusions, and organ donations.

Fetuses may become infected if their mother becomes infected while she's pregnant. Women may want to consider halting breastfeeding if they have the virus – it can be transmitted through breast milk.

2. West Nile has flu-like symptoms.

According to the CDC, the mild form of the illness feels a lot like the flu. Symptoms include: Fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.

Most people recover from mild illnesses in a few days to several weeks. The CDC says that it's not necessary to go to the doctor, because most illnesses resolve themselves.

3. One in 150 infected people develop a severe form of the illness.

More serious cases of West Nile virus can evolve from flu-like symptoms to neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The virus interferes with the central nervous system, and permanent neurological damage may result.

There are no available treatments for severe West Nile virus, but if you start to experience these symptoms, seek medical help immediately. Typically, cases are monitored and supported in hospitals.

4. The elderly and immunocompromised are at the highest risk of serious illness and death.

If you are young and healthy, you will most likely be one of the lucky ones who avoid symptoms or experience mild symptoms. Those who are at highest risk from West Nile are the elderly, and people who already have an illness or are undergoing treatment that compromises their immune defenses.

5. How to avoid West Nile.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for West Nile Virus. The best defense is to avoid the mosquito bites that cause it.

It's true that mosquitos are omnipresent during the summer, and nearly impossible to dodge. But you can help control the population in your backyard by removing stagnant water from places where mosquitos like to breed, like flowerpots and bird baths.

Always wear insect repellent, and long sleeves and pants if possible when spending time outside. Keep sealed screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitos out of the house.

Some states and cities spray insecticide as a matter of routine, to keep the mosquito population down. Currently, Dallas – which has experienced 200 deaths from West Nile – is spraying the metro area in hopes of reducing the number of potential deaths.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 19, 2012
Last Updated:
August 19, 2012