West Nile Virus – what’s the deal?

West Nile Virus seemed to have erupted into every news program this week, with big pictures of mosquitoes everywhere. What’s making it a big deal? Well, we’re seeing a lot more mosquitoes, birds and humans infected with this virus. I don’t know if they’re calling it an epidemic yet, but every state except Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have reported cases. Over half of the human cases are in Texas. Locally, LA County reports 5 cases this year, and OC reports 1 human case in Anaheim and 10 birds.

What is it?

The virus itself is spherical and holds 1 strand of RNA.  It’s carried by mosquitoes, mainly among birds, which serve as the virus’ main host. Mosquitoes that carry the virus may bite humans instead of birds, and that’s how we get it.

When humans get the virus, they may have a mild disease with some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting

It may take a few days after the bite (3-10 days?) before you get these symptoms. And they last usually for 3-6 days.

More severe forms of disease, which can be life threatening, may be called West Nile encephalitis or West Nile meningitis, depending on what part of the body is affected. The following symptoms can occur, and need prompt attention:

  • Confusion or change in ability to think clearly
  • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stiff neck
  • Weakness of one arm or leg

The virus has been linked to 43 deaths. So it’s serious, it’s a public health issue, and that’s why people are reporting and publicizing it.

They think this past year’s mild winter and hot and dry year so far in the Midwest (especially Texas) is causing a three-fold increase in human cases this year.

A&P Note: Look above at the symptoms – What body systems does the virus affect?

GI, nervous, muscular, integument… Don’t forget the immune system! Am I missing anything?

Avoidance and Prevention

Well, it’s carried by mosquitoes, so avoid mosquito bites! They say mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and in the evening, so avoid being out at those times. Wear long sleeves and pants to cover as much skin as you can. Ya, I know, sometimes easier said than done, especially during something like the recent heat wave.

They also say you can spray yourself with a DEET-like product.  They sprayed insecticide DUET in Dallas from airplanes to try to slow the spread by killing the mosquitoes.

Look for standing water, like in pots or such – empty them or contact vector control (see below). If you see dead birds, contact vector control so they can test it and see if it has the virus.

Sound interesting?

You can work the front lines fighting illnesses like the West Nile Virus. You’d of course want to study microbiology now, and focus on infectious diseases and public health in the future.

There’s also a field called epidemiology: the study of how these illnesses spread, not only geographically, but also between different types of animals – especially birds, mosquitoes and humans in the case of the West Nile Virus.

Locally, the Orange County Vector Control District is responsible for protecting public health by controlling rats, flies, mosquitoes, Red Imported Fire Ants and other vector related problems in Orange County. What’s a Vector? “A vector is any insect or arthropod, rodent or other animal of public health significance capable of harboring or transmitting the causative agents of human disease, or capable of causing human discomfort or injury.”

There are 100 or so of these “vector control districts” around California (I’ve seen them as Mosquito Control in Texas) that do the same thing for their specific area. They are funded by property taxes.

References and Websites You Can Browse:



One comment

  1. It’s confirmed in Orange County – per CBS Radio News (KNX-1070AM, Los Angeles) just after 3pm 9/7/2012 – 6 human cases in Orange County, California. 3 of them are confirmed. Some of them didn’t know they had it until they tried to donate blood. Another 3 are probable and not confirmed yet. The following OC website says 6 are confirmed, and also has helpful information – http://www.ochealthinfo.com/epi/wnv/

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