FAMILY HEALTH: WEST NILE VIRUS

SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT & PREVENTION 

STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE 

DR. MATTHEW WIGDER
Pediatrician
Texas Children's Pediatrics, Westchase

   
Editor's Note: Health officials have already confirmed dozens of cases of people with the West Nile Virus in Texas in 2014. Mosquitoes found in traps around Houston have also tested positive for West Nile. ParentsPost asked Dr. Matthew Wigder for advice on how to protect our families.
 
       
   

ParentsPost: How does someone contract the West Nile Virus?

 

DR. WIGDER: While biting humans, female mosquitoes suck a small amount of blood needed to mature their eggs they intend to lay. A small percentage of viruses may be spread into humans by mosquito vectors which bite us after picking up the virus getting blood from another food source. These viruses need such vectors in order for their infectious spread.

 

ParentsPost: Are children more susceptible to becoming ill from the virus?

 

DR. WIGDER: It is not clear if children are equally susceptible to West Nile Virus from a single bite, yet studies show that the vast majority of those who develop any symptoms from contracting the virus are adults. According to a recent study published in Pediatrics, over an eight-year span, diagnosed cases of West Nile Virus were about 20 times more common in adults than in children.

 

ParentsPost: If a child gets a mosquito bite, what are the symptoms to watch?

 

DR. WIGDER: The incubation period for West Nile Virus-associated diseases is between five and 15 days. Most illnesses in children are flu-like symptoms, fever, muscle aches and headache. According to a recent article published in Pediatrics, almost 1,500 cases of West Nile Virus were seen nationally in children from the years 1999 to 2007. The vast majority of cases were in July through September. Approximately 1 in 3 infected children developed neuro-invasive disease, mostly meningitis. Early symptoms resemble those of the flu, fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headache.

 


ParentsPost:
If a child has a fever, how can doctors determine whether it's caused by the West Nile Virus or something else?

 

DR. WIGDER: A blood test can be done to screen for West Nile Virus. However, finding a case of WNV out of a sampling of all children in Houston with fever may be akin to finding the needle in a haystack. The numbers of people infected in Texas has set records, but among all illnesses causing fever, this is still extremely uncommon.

 

ParentsPost: How do you treat someone sick with the West Nile Virus?

 

DR. WIGDER: Treatment is largely supportive – i.e. intravenous fluids, oxygen, etc. These are the mainstays. There are no oral medications on the market at this time to treat an exposed or actively infected person.

 

ParentsPost: How do you care for someone diagnosed with the West Nile Virus, especially a child?

 

DR. WIGDER: Close monitoring of symptoms is the primary goal. Most people who get infected will never develop symptoms. Those who do may have benign symptoms are typically indistinguishable from the flu as noted above. However, in some cases, progression to neurologic symptoms may occur. These symptoms include severe headache, vomiting, confusion, altering levels of consciousness and behavioral abnormalities. These are considered neuro-invasive symptoms and, in a person suspected to have a higher risk of West Nile Virus due to exposure to the virus, must be checked out in the appropriate setting. It must be stated that many illnesses may cause these symptoms, most of which do require prompt evaluation by a physician even without the presence of mosquito bites.

 

ParentsPost: How can you protect your family and try to prevent your children from contracting the West Nile Virus?

 

DR. WIGDER: We recommend using the 4 Ds: The first D is DEET. Using bug repellent liberally is very important and making sure that the bug repellent contains DEET or any other EPA approved ingredients is best. The higher the DEET concentration, the better. The second D is  DRESS. Dress in long sleeves and/or pants which are loose and light-colored. The Third D is DRAIN. Drain any areas of standing water often (wading pools, pet bowls, bird-baths). The Fourth D is for DUSK & DAWN. Mosquitoes are more prone to be out during DUSK & DAWN instead of the heat of the midday, and to be more vigilant during these peak mosquito-biting times.

 

ParentsPost: What are the chances of being infected with the West Nile Virus?

 

DR. WIGDER: Being infected with West Nile Virus is rare. Even with the dramatic spike in the region, cases are not common and are not the only reason a child might get a headache, be vomiting and/or have a fever. As always, if concerned about your child's progression of symptoms, please seek proper medical care - this might be to see your pediatrician or, in severe cases, your nearest emergency room capable of caring for a child.





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