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What is West Nile Virus and How Do I Know if I Have it?

West Nile Virus cases confirmed in DuPage. What you need to know.

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:

  • fevers
  • headache
  • body aches
  • malaise
  • 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
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • paralysis

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.

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For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control website.

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

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Good informative article. 1) How about Spraying in the effected areas-as Texas is doing? 2) People should not take Chance,but consult a doctor. Can you give timeline-when to see a doctor?
Michael Gill MD August 31, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I believe that certain neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago were doing mosquito spraying a few years back. As to timeline, I think that anyone with unexplained fevers or headaches for more than 48 to 72 hrs should probably seek medical evaluation. Michael Gill, MD, PhD

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