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West Nile Virus

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If your doctor thinks that you may have West Nile, he or she will ask questions to find out when you were bitten by a mosquito and what symptoms you have.

If you have symptoms of encephalitis, your doctor will test your blood for antibodies to the virus. If you have these antibodies in your blood, your doctor will know that you have West Nile. In that case, your doctor may test your blood 2 weeks later to see if the antibodies are increasing.

Your doctor may also do a test called a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to look for antibodies in the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.

To help find out if you have encephalitis, you may have an MRI scan so your doctor can see pictures of your brain.

There is no treatment for West Nile. Your body just has to fight the infection on its own. If you have a mild case, you can recover at home. But if West Nile is severe, you may need to stay in a hospital while you get treatment to help your body fight the illness. You may get IV (intravenous) fluids, help with breathing (using a ventilator), and help preventing other illnesses such as pneumonia. You also may get medicine to help with pain or fever.

You can contact your local health department for the latest information on the virus in your area. It's also a good idea to take steps to lower your risk of getting a mosquito bite:

  • Use insect repellent when you go outdoors in the late spring, summer, and early fall.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants if you know that you will be in areas with lots of mosquitoes or where you know West Nile virus has been found.
  • Do not leave puddles or open containers of water near your house, because mosquitoes breed in standing water.
  • Stay indoors at dawn, dusk, and in the early evening when mosquitoes are the most active.

A West Nile virus vaccine is available for horses only. If you own horses, you may think about getting the vaccine for them. The death rate from West Nile is much higher in horses than in humans.

Researchers are working to create a vaccine that prevents West Nile virus in humans.

Learning about West Nile virus:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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