West Nile Virus: Symptoms and Treatment Options

The West Nile Virus has spread rapidly across North America, affecting thousands of birds, horses, and humans, since it was discovered in the Western hemisphere. WNV swept from the New York City region in 1999 to almost all of the continental U.S., 7 Canadian provinces, and throughout Mexico and parts of the Caribbean by 2004.

In humans, the virus often causes only a mild infection — characterized by fever, headache, tiredness, aches, and rash — that clears up without further treatment. However, some patients develop severe infections resulting in neurological disease and even death.

West Nile virus (WNV) is an infectious disease that first appeared in the United States in 1999. Infected mosquitoes spread the virus that causes it. People who contract WNV usually have no symptoms or mild symptoms.

Statistics of West Nile Virus

Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented nine hundred fifty-four human cases of West Nile Virus in the United States in 2002. Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and Mississippi were the area’s most affected. Infected birds have also been found in Canadian provinces such as Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus

You may have tremors, muscle aches, and fatigue for months after the illness, especially if your brain became infected. Other possible effects include seizures, memory loss, personality changes, paralysis, and symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. Some of these problems may last a long time.

The symptoms of severe disease (also called neuroinvasive disease, such as West Nile encephalitis or meningitis or West Nile poliomyelitis) include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease.

Treatment of West Nile Virus

Supportive treatment for West Nile virus can include receiving fluids through a vein (intravenous, or IV), help with breathing (using a ventilator), and prevention of secondary infections, such as pneumonia. For more information, see the topic Encephalitis.

In 2007 the World Community Grid launched a project where by computer modeling of the West Nile Virus (and related viruses) thousands of small molecules are screened for their potential anti-viral properties in fighting the West Nile Virus. This is a project which by the use of computer simulations potential drugs will be identified which will directly attack the virus once a person is infected.

This is a distributed process project similar to SETI@Home where the general public downloads the World Community Grid agent and the program (along with thousands of other users) screens thousands of molecules while their computer would be otherwise idle. If the user needs to use the computer the program sleeps.

There is no specific therapy. In more severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, i.e., hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrition, airway management, ventilatory support (ventilator) if needed, prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.

Article by Peter Hutch

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