Home / News / India /  What is West Nile fever? How it spreads, symptoms, treatment, other details here

Following the death of a 47-year-old man on Sunday due to West Nile fever in Kerala's Thrissur district, the first fatality in the state caused by the vector-borne infection in the last three years, it has put the public in a frenzy over what exactly causes this fever and how it transmits itself. Additionally, this has prompted the health department to issue directions for people to eliminate mosquito breeding sites to prevent the disease.

What you need to know:

It is important to note that the West Nile fever is spread by the Culex species of mosquitoes and it was first detected in 1937 in Uganda. While in India, the fever was first detected in Kerala in 2011 and a six-year-old boy from Malappuram died due to the infection in 2019. It is believed that the West Nile virus can cause a fatal neurological disease in humans but most of those infected will not show any symptoms. 

What exactly is West Nile fever?

As the West Nile virus (WNV) proceeds to spread out becoming the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States, it is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Additionally, “the cases of WNV occur during mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through fall," the CDC informed.

How does the West Nile virus spread?

As per reports, the West Nile virus is most commonly spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected while feeding on infected birds. “Infected mosquitoes then spread West Nile virus to people and other animals by biting them. In a very small number of cases, West Nile virus has been spread through, the exposure in a laboratory setting, blood transfusion and organ transplant, mother to baby, during pregnancy, delivery, or breast feeding," the CDC notification explained.

What are the West Nile fever symptoms to look out for?

So far, the major symptoms to watch out for include a series of severe bout of illness including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. 

“Severe illness can occur in people of any age. However, people over 60 years of age are at greater risk for severe illness if they are infected (1 in 50 people). People with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, and people who have received organ transplants, are also at greater risk," CDC noted.

But, what about recovery?

As per the CDC notification, recovery from severe illness due to West Nile fever is likely to take several weeks or months. Some effects to the central nervous system might be permanent. About 1 out of 10 people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die.

Strangely enough, most people do not show any symptoms. CDC said, “most people (8 out of 10) infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. Most people with febrile illness due to West Nile virus recover completely, but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months."

Are there any treatments available currently?

Unfortunately, so far, there are no vaccine or specific medicines available for those suffering from the West Nile virus infection. While, over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to reduce fever and relieve some symptoms, it is important to note that in severe cases, patients often need to be hospitalized. Patients would require “supportive treatment, such as intravenous fluids, pain medication, and nursing care," CDC noted.

 

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