What exactly is the West Nile virus? And why is everyone buzzing
Even though it was discovered all the way back in 1937 in
Africa, the West Nile virus probably didn't make its way to the
United States until 1999. But since then, it has been a cause of
concern all over the country during the summer months.
West Nile virus is caused by a bite from an infected mosquito
that's already carrying the virus, but it's important
to remember that not all mosquitoes
are infected. In many parts of the United States, the
risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito is
greatest from July to early September. But in some
parts of the country, mosquito bites can be a risk all year
Not everyone who gets bitten by an infected mosquito will get
the virus. And although kids can get West Nile virus, it's rare
for them to become very sick from it.
Symptoms of West Nile virus really depend on the person who
becomes infected. Kids with normal
), the system of the body that fights off disease and infection,
usually get just a mild "flu-like" illness and may not
feel bad at all with the infection.
People over 50 years old and those with weakened immune systems
, or organ transplants are most at risk for the infection. Most of
the time, symptoms of West Nile virus are similar to the flu
- neck and back stiffness
- muscle ache
- joint pain
- swollen glands
In the most rare and extreme cases, West Nile virus can cause a
-tis), which is irritation and swelling of the
West Nile virus is not spread from person to person. That means
if your friend next door just got it, and you played together the
day before, you won't get the virus. And though pets can
get the virus, they can't spread it to people. The only way to
get it is from the bite of an infected mosquito.
So, what's being done to stop the spread of West Nile virus?
Health officials in each state are doing their best to find out
where mosquitoes live and kill the eggs of mosquitoes that might
carry the virus.
You can do your best to prevent coming in contact with West Nile
virus. Here's what to do:
- Wear insect repellent. Repellents that include one of these
ingredients are best: DEET, lemon eucalyptus, or picaridin. Ask a
parent to help you apply them.
- Playing outside at midday will help you avoid getting bitten
because mosquitoes are most likely to be out during early morning
or early evening.
- When possible, wear socks, long sleeves, and long pants
when you're playing outside.
- Never play near standing water like creeks or wading pools
(mosquitoes love to hang out there!).
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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