As The Leader reported in last week’s issue, wet conditions and plenty of standing water means good conditions for more mosquitoes in our area and, unfortunately, the potential for more West Nile Virus infections beyond the first case reported by Harris County several weeks ago.
Minesh Desai, an internist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group of the Heights, affiliated with Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital, knows firsthand the risk of West Nile Virus. He had some experience in Indianapolis diagnosing and treating it.
Desai said it was important to understand the roots of the virus, and how exactly it spreads from animals to humans. Health officials first detected the virus in North America in 1999, and the virus itself is believed to have originated in the West Nile province in Uganda. The virus spreads primarily from birds to humans and to other animals.
“Generally the cycle is the virus traveling from birds to mosquitoes to humans,” Desai said. “Birds tend to be the reservoir of the virus.”
People are at highest risk of infection by mosquitoes when the flying pests are most prevelant at dawn and dusk with greater risks for those aged 50 years and older, those with chronic illnesses and transplant patients, Desai said.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that, even if someone faces infection, statistically only a small percentage of the population becomes severely ill.
“Those infected with the disease can be broken into three sections,” Desai said. “The vast majority of people will have no symptoms, however up to 25 percent will get flu-like symptoms, which includes a fever, headaches, bodyaches, abdominal pain and maybe a rash. About .5 percent will have a severe form of the infection.”
Severe symptoms in these few people can include neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, muscle weakness, vision loss and paralysis, according to Center for Disease Control. The symptoms may last several weeks but neurological effects may be permanent.
Desai said diagnosisis of the disease is performed through clinical evaluation. Those that face the mildest form of the disease can expect treatment which targets the symptoms, like headaches and body aches.
“Patients that have the severe form would receive mainly supportive care and that would require hospitalization,” Desai said.
Rather than geography being a major influence on West Nile Virus, standing water presents more of a danger. Getting rid of mosquito breeding grounds is the most effective way of removing the risk of catching the virus, but people should also make sure to avoid the times of day when mosquitoes are most active which is generally from dusk until dawn, Desai said.
“The virus can’t be spread by casual contact, but people shouldn’t be afraid to follow up with their physicians if they have any concerns,” Desai said.