What is West Nile Virus?

Recently, North Carolina confirmed the first case of and death due to West Nile Virus in 2012. Nationwide there have been more than 390 cases and 8 deaths, which is the highest rate in the US since 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). West Nile Virus often gets a lot of attention, because it can cause severe neurological (brain and nervous system) symptoms, which can cause long term damage.

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause serious, life altering symptoms that can be fatal. It is a seasonal epidemic that often flares up during the summer months and early fall. People get WNV as a result of being bitten by a mosquito. According to the CDC, approximately 80% of people who are infected with WNV will not have any symptoms; those who do have usually have mild symptoms such as:

  • fever,
  • headache/body aches,
  • nausea/vomiting,
  • swollen lymph gland and/or
  • a skin rash on their chest and back.

About 1 out of every 150 people infected with WNV will develop severe symptoms that can include:


  • high fever,
  • headache,
  • neck stiffness,
  • stupor/disorientation,
  • coma,
  • tremors/convulsions,
  • muscle weakness,
  • vision loss,
  • numbness and/or paralysis


The symptoms can often last several days or weeks, and have lasting neurological effects. If you develop any of these symptoms you should seek medical attention immediately. People who are over 50 and infants are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms.

How Is West Nile Virus Treated?

There is no specific treatment for WNV infection. For people with milder symptoms, the symptoms generally get better on their own, although it may take a person several days or sometimes week to feel better or back to normal. For those with more severe cases, hospitalization is often needed to receive treatment for neurological symptoms, help with breathing, intravenous fluids and personal care.

Preventing West Nile Virus

The best way to prevent West Nile Virus is to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. Some tips for avoiding mosquito bites are:

  • Get rid of mosquito breeding areas by emptying standing water in buckets, pet dishes, tires, kiddie pools, etc.
  • Use insect repellant whenever outdoors.
  • Make sure you have good screens on windows and doors, and that they latch properly to keep mosquitos out.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants around dawn and dusk (in addition to using insect repellent) when mosquitos are most active

For more information, check out the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services West Nile Virus website at http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/diseases/wnv.html and the CDC West Nile Virus website at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/wnv_factsheet.htm.

Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Please call toll-free 1-877-530-1824. Or, for more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, please visit our website: http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE.

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