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West Nile virus

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Viral Illnesses

West Nile virus has a widespread distribution in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East. West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause a range of symptoms of varying severity in humans.

Since then, West Nile virus has spread rapidly westward, infecting birds, humans and horses.

Deaths from West Nile infection are uncommon. Most people who are infected with West Nile virus have no signs or symptoms or have only a mild illness. Most don't become seriously ill and recover fully. However, West Nile virus may be serious, especially in seniors and people with other medical conditions. It may lead to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), or inflammation of the brain and membranes surrounding the brain (meningoencephalitis).

Birds are the main reservoir of the virus. When a mosquito bites an infected bird, the mosquito can spread the virus by biting another bird or another animal, including a human. You can reduce your risk of contracting West Nile virus by avoiding exposure to mosquitoes.

Signs and symptoms

Most people infected with the West Nile virus have no signs or symptoms. About 20 percent of people develop a mild infection called West Nile fever. Common signs and symptoms of West Nile fever include:

In less than 1 percent of infected people, the virus causes a more serious neurological infection, including encephalitis, meningitis or paralysis. Signs and symptoms of these diseases include:

  • High fever

  • Severe Headache

  • Stiff neck

  • Disorientation or confusion

  • Stupor or coma

  • Tremors or muscle jerking

  • Signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease (Parkinsonism)

  • Incoordination

  • Convulsions

  • Partial paralysis

Symptoms of West Nile fever usually last a few days, but symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis may last several weeks and certain neurological effects, such as paralysis, may be permanent.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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