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One-Year Recovery for West Nile Virus

Study Shows Most Patients With Disease Return to Normal in a Year
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 18, 2008 -- West Nile virus is sneaky and can be stealth-like. It's hard to even know you have it. Most infected people do not have symptoms. Some think they have the flu or a cold.

But for those who do get West Nile virus, what does the future hold? A new study looks at how well people recover from the mosquito-borne illness that can affect the central nervous system.

The study's lead author, Mark Loeb, MD, with McMaster University, says in a news release that until now little has been known about the long-term effects of West Nile virus.

In this new study, he says, "We found that both physical and mental functions, as well as mood and fatigue, seemed to return to normal in about one year."

The study tracked 156 Canadian patients during four years (from 2003 to 2007) who were infected with West Nile. The patients included patients with more serious neuroinvasive disease (affecting the brain and spinal cord and causing meningitis, encephalitis, or paralysis) and those without neuroinvasive disease.

The participants were given several tests to measure their physical and mental health, as well as levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

They were checked at 10, 20, and 30 days after study enrollment to achieve a baseline. After that they were tested once a month for a year.

Recovery From West Nile Virus

Researchers found that within about a year, infected people returned to a normal level of fatigue and physical, mental, and emotional function.

Having other medical conditions played a big role.

Researchers found that those who didn't have other medical problems (such as heart disease and diabetes) before getting infected snapped back into physical shape more quickly than those who had other health conditions at the time of infection.

Men healed more quickly than women when it came to regaining their mental health.

Researchers acknowledge that the results may be "overly optimistic." For instance, only people who survived West Nile virus were studied.

Seven infected participants died before being able to enroll in the study.

Researchers hope the study may help doctors and their patients better gauge how to proceed with a plan when it comes to recovering from West Nile virus.

The findings appear in the August issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

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