What's it like: To contract West Nile

It can take from two days to two weeks for the virus to present itself once you've been bitten. Not every mosquito bite will result in a person contracting West Nile virus.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: August 11, 2013
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How does someone “catch” West Nile virus?

West Nile virus is contracted generally through the bite of a mosquito. Mosquitoes feed on other animals, such as birds, and acquire the virus. They then feed on people and horses, who both can contract the virus. Pets, such as dogs and cats, can contract West Nile, but it's rare.

In a very small number of cases, West Nile virus has been spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, and from mother to baby during pregnancy, delivery or breast-feeding.

It can take anywhere from two days to two weeks for the virus to present itself once you've been bitten. Not every mosquito bite will result in a person contracting West Nile virus. In fact, most people — an estimated 80 percent — who contract the virus don't ever develop symptoms. However, people older than 50 or people with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk to develop illness.

The mild symptoms of West Nile virus can include fever, headache, tiredness and body aches that can last for several days. Some people might develop a rash. The more severe symptoms include neurological symptoms, including meningitis or inflammation of the brain, or even paralysis.

How is it treated?

There are no medications to treat West Nile virus. There also isn't a vaccine to prevent it.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to reduce fever or other symptoms. Most people recover on their own.

Your doctor will likely give you “supportive care,” treating your symptoms. Because it's a virus, antibiotics are not generally effective. If you're hospitalized with severe symptoms, you'll generally be given intravenous fluids, pain medication and nursing care.

Does it hurt?

If you contract the virus, you might suffer from joint pain that lasts for weeks or months. Each person is different, and symptoms will vary from person to person.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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