By Maren Dunn, D.O., Explorebigsky.com Health Writer
Should I be worried about West Nile Virus? How will I know if I have it?
West Nile Virus, named for the location of its initial identification in Uganda in 1937, has become alarmingly prevalent in recent years in the U.S. So far this year, 43 states have reported a total of 693 cases of illness in humans, 26 of which have resulted in death. However, only two cases have been reported in Montana, and these were Phillips and Sheridan counties in the eastern part of the state.
The virus is transmitted primarily by mosquitos, and it can infect birds and other animals, as well. Warm and wet conditions, especially in the southern U.S., are considered the culprit for this year’s increase in cases.
West Nile Virus has three outcomes in humans: 80 percent of infections cause no symptoms; 20 percent cause flu-like symptoms of fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, enlarged lymph nodes and sometimes a rash; and less than 1 percent cause severe symptoms like weakness, numbness, confusion, paralysis, headache and neck pain. These severe symptoms can lead to life-threatening neurologic complications that require immediate medical attention. The milder symptoms usually clear on their own in a matter of days to weeks. Ultimately, a blood test can confirm if West Nile Virus is the offender.
The best way to protect against West Nile Virus is to prevent mosquito bites. Using insect repellent is helpful. Also, staying indoors or wearing long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk is a good idea. It’s extremely important to drain or change water from places like bird baths, tire swings, wading pools, animal dishes and flower pots where mosquitos could breed.
If you’re concerned you may have West Nile Virus, see a medical provider as soon as possible for evaluation.