Severe illness can life-threatening, especially in the elderly and people who are
How Do People Get West Nile Virus?
Mosquitoes get infected by feeding on birds that carry West Nile virus. They can
spread it to people and animals through bites. In the U.S., only one kind of mosquito
(out of 175 types) can pass the West Nile virus.
The virus isn't contagious, so it can't spread from person to person.
How Is West Nile Virus Infection Diagnosed?
If someone has symptoms of West Nile virus, doctors consider:
whether the person lives in or traveled to an area where infected mosquitoes have
the season (mosquitoes are more active in warm weather)
The doctor can send a blood sample to a lab to test for the infection.
Someone with symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis may get a lumbar
puncture (spinal tap). This test collects some fluid from around the brain and
spinal cord for testing in a lab.
How Is West Nile Virus Infection Treated?
Most West Nile virus infections get better on their own. Acetaminophen
or ibuprofen can help
ease minor aches and pains, and drinking plenty of fluids can prevent dehydration.
Someone with more serious symptoms needs care in a hospital, with IV
fluids, breathing help, and other treatments. There is no specific medicine for West
Nile encephalitis or meningitis. Antibiotics
will not work because a virus, not bacteria, causes West Nile disease. No vaccine
for the virus is currently available.
Can West Nile Virus Infection Be Prevented?
The best way to protect yourself and your family from the West Nile virus is to
prevent mosquito bites. Be sure to:
Use screens on doors and windows, and repair broken or damaged screens right away.
Keep unscreened doors and windows shut.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes, and socks when outside.
Use insect repellent
as directed. Choose one with DEET or picaridin. For kids over 3 years old, you also
can use oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Limit time outside around dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
Don't give mosquitoes places to breed. They lay their eggs in water, so get rid
of standing water in things like buckets, trash cans, and tires. Empty and clean birdbaths,
dog bowls, and flowerpots at least once a week.
What Else Should I Know?
Communities help health officials track West Nile virus infection patterns. If
you see a dead bird in your area, do not touch it with your bare hands. Instead, contact
your state or local health department to ask what to do with it. If they get a lot
of reports of dead birds, they can look to see if they were infected with West Nile
virus. If so, health officials can spray the area with pesticides or do other things
to help control mosquitoes.