What You Need to Know About West Nile Virus Brought to you by Lake Norman Regional Medical Center

Know the risk and protect yourself

West Nile virus is an infectious disease most commonly spread by infected mosquitoes, occurring in the warmest months of the year when mosquitoes are most active. Although the disease can be serious, most cases require no medical attention.

The best way to prevent West Nile virus infection is to protect against mosquito bites. To help keep you and your family safe, Lake Norman Regional Medical Center would like to provide information about the disease and tips for preventing West Nile virus infection.

Incidence and symptoms

Cases of West Nile virus infections, which first appeared in the U.S. in 1999, have now been found in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent the disease nor are there any medications to treat it.

Fortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70-80 percent of people who have the virus experience no symptoms. About 20 percent of people develop a fever with symptoms such as headache, body aches, skin rash, diarrhea, vomiting, and swollen lymph glands — also known as West Nile fever. Most people with West Nile fever recover completely, though fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months.

Less than 1 percent of those infected with West Nile virus develop a serious neurological infection, such as encephalitis or meningitis. Symptoms of neurological infection can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures, or paralysis. Recovery may take several weeks or months, and some of the neurological effects may be permanent.

Mild symptoms of West Nile fever usually resolve on their own, however, if you have symptoms such as a severe headache, stiff neck, disorientation or confusion, call your doctor right away.

How to protect against infection

The best way to prevent West Nile virus is to protect against mosquito bites and eliminate potential breeding sites around your home. The health professionals at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center recommend you:

  • Wear insect repellent outdoors. The CDC recommends products containing Environmental Protection Agency-registered active ingredients; those containing DEET, picardidin, IR3535®, and some products with lemon eucalyptus oil and para-menthane-diol provide longer-lasting protection. Be sure to follow application instructions and pay special attention to recommendations for use on children and pets.
  • Cover up. When weather permits, wear a hat, socks, and long sleeves and pants. Mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing, so consider using an EPA-registered repellent on clothes for added protection. Be sure to read the label to ensure safe application.
  • Stay indoors during peak mosquito activity. Whenever possible, consider staying inside during dawn and dusk hours, when mosquitoes are most active. If you go outside, be sure to take extra safety measures.
  • Keep mosquitoes outside with window screens. Make sure you have screens installed on windows — and they are in good repair — to keep your home free of mosquitoes.
  • Eliminate potential mosquito breeding areas. Empty standing water from planting pots, buckets, rain gutters, and children's wading pools when they're not in use. Change water in birth baths and pet bowls weekly. And if you have old tires or a tire swing in your yard, drill a hole in the side so water can drain.

By taking some simple precautions to protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes, you can reduce the risk of West Nile virus. For more information about West Nile virus activity in your area, visit www.cdc.gov/westnile.

About Lake Norman Regional Medical Center

Lake Norman Regional Medical Center offers comprehensive medical care to individuals throughout the greater Lake Norman region. Located just off I-77 at Exit 33, the Mooresville medical campus offers complete specialty services from 24-hour emergency medicine and maternity to oncology and advanced surgical services. 

Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your physician that will benefit your health.