Disease not fatal for every victim

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002

With the West Nile virus continuing to make its presence known in this area, it is important to remember certain facts about the virus.

Symptoms of the virus may also include symptoms associated with the flu.

Most people who are infected either experience no symptoms or experience mild illness such as fever, headaches and body aches before fully recovering. Some persons may also develop mild rash or swollen lymph glands.

In some, especially the elderly or those who do not have strong immune systems, the virus can cause disease that affects the brain tissue. All residents of areas where virus activity has been identified are at risk of getting the virus, although persons over 50 years of age have the highest risk of severe disease.

At its most serious, it can cause permanent neurological damage and can be fatal.

Symptoms of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) include the rapid onset of severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness (coma), or muscle weakness and may be fatal.

The virus is not transmitted from person to person, and you cannot get the virus from touching or kissing a person who has the disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with the disease.

Being bitten by an infected mosquito will not necessarily make you sick. If illness were to occur, it would occur within 3 to 15 days of being bitten by an infected mosquito.

There is currently no vaccine against the West Nile virus, but fewer than 1 percent of people infected with the West Nile virus develop encephalitis, and among those hospitalized with West Nile encephalitis, the case fatality rate changes from 3 to 15 percent.

Even in areas where the virus is circulating, very few mosquitoes are infected with the virus, and even if the mosquito is infected, less than 1 percent of people who get bitten and become infected will get severely ill.

Infected mosquitoes are the primary source for the virus. Although ticks infected with the virus with the West Nile virus have been found in Asia and Africa, their role in the transmission and maintenance of the virus is uncertain.

If you think you have symptoms of West Nile encephalitis, contact your health care provider. If you or your family members develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness and severe headaches, you should see your doctor immediately.

There is no documented evidence that a pregnancy is at risk due to infection with the West Nile virus. There is also no documented evidence of person-to-person, animal-to-animal

or animal-to-person transmission of West Nile virus.

Although the vast majority of infections have been identified in birds, the virus has been shown to infect horses, cats, bats, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels and domestic rabbits.