West Nile virus
West Nile virus is an illness that causes flu-like symptoms in about 20% of people who get it. You get the virus by being bitten by a mosquito that carries it. The virus originated in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, but has spread to other countries in the past decade or so. There is no vaccine against the virus, so it’s important to take steps to avoid it.
What causes West Nile virus?
West Nile virus is caused by one of the group of flaviviruses . People get it from being bitten by a mosquito. You don’t catch it from other people.
Is West Nile virus serious?
For most people, West Nile virus is not serious, and they don’t have any symptoms at all. Only about one in five people who get the virus will experience flu-like symptoms. But, in a very small percentage of people, West Nile virus can cause meningitis and/or encephalitis which can be life-threatening.
Can I Prevent West Nile virus?
You can prevent West Nile virus by avoiding mosquitoes. If you will be in an area where mosquitoes are common, make sure that your kids wear long pants and sleeves. Use flyscreens and insect repellent. You can also remove the breeding grounds for mosquitoes by emptying standing water from pools, puddles, and drains. There is no vaccine against the virus.
How do I know if my child has West Nile virus?
Most people who are bitten by a mosquito will not get West Nile virus or Kunjin virus. If your child does get the virus, he will most likely experience mild, flu-like symptoms like fever, muscle aches, headache, and fatigue. Less than 1% of people who get the virus will experience more serious symptoms such as stiff neck, very high fever, convulsions, pain and coma. These symptoms indicate a condition called West Nile fever.
How do I treat West Nile virus?
Since the illness is a virus, at-home treatment includes paracetamol for fever and pain, and lots of rest and fluids. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses. West Nile fever needs to be treated in a hospital and includes medications to handle secondary infections, painkiller, and other treatments. Recovery from West Nile fever can take months, and some of the symptoms, like muscle weakness, can be permanent.
Should I call the doctor?
Always call the doctor if you believe your child has been exposed to West Nile virus or if he has symptoms of the virus or West Nile fever. Call the doctor immediately if your child has a fever, stiff neck, or other signs of encephalitis or meningitis.
What you need to know about West Nile virus
- West Nile virus is a potentially serious illness transmitted by mosquitoes.
- Most people who are bitten by a mosquito will not get West Nile virus.
- West Nile virus can’t be treated with antibiotics.
- Avoid the virus by avoiding places where mosquitoes are common.
Find more relevant articles and information about West Nile virus:
- Find more about bacterial and viral infections
- Learn how to teach kids to wash their hands
- What is the best way to take a temperature?
- Know more about fever?
- What is meningitis?
- What is encephalitis?
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand's parenting resource for family health. Sources include Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Monday, 18 January 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.