Each month a Loyola Center for Health at Wheaton primary care physician will answer a health question impacting the western suburbs.
Q: What is West Nile Virus and how do I know if I have it?
West Nile virus is a member of the Japanese encephalitis virus family. It’s main reservoir appears to be birds and it can be transmitted to humans via mosquitos. Clinical cases in humans can run from nothing at all (asymptomatic) to very severe cases of encephalitis or meningitis (inflammation of the brain and the lining of the spinal cord).
Typical symptoms, which are only seen in 20-40% of those who might become infected, include:
- body aches
- loss of appetite
In other words, they are typical “flu-like” type of symptoms. There can sometimes be a lacy or spotty type of rash that might appear on the trunk and arms. More severe symptoms which are only seen in 1% of infected individuals can include
- stiff neck
Diagnosis is generally made on a blood test looking for the West Nile antibody.
There is no specific treatment for West Nile virus. Most individuals recover without incident. Supportive therapy is provided for those afflicted with more severe cases.
The best prevention is taking care to avoid mosquito bites. Don’t go out in the prime mosquito feeding hours which are dawn and dusk. If you do, make sure that you wear long sleeves and/or use mosquito repellants with DEET. Eliminate sources of standing water in your back yard which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Michael Gill, MD, PhD, has been bringing world-class care to the Wheaton area for 11 years and is the medical director at the Loyola Center for Health located just behind Whole Foods. He is double boarded in internal medicine and pediatrics and is an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine