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West Nile Virus

Take Safety Precautions To Protect Your Child Against the West Nile Virus

Summer's most unwelcome visitor – the mosquito – has returned with its nasty bag of tricks, including West Nile virus. Infectious disease specialists at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas, are warning parents to be on the lookout for signs of the illness in the nation's youngest residents.

"Although the West Nile virus is not as prominent in kids as in adults, it's important to be acquainted with the symptoms," says Dr. Jeffrey Starke, director of infection control at Texas Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "The signs are distinctly different from those of normal kids' illnesses."

West Nile Symptoms

Dr. Starke says symptoms of West Nile encephalitis, the disease's most serious form, include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, an altered mental state, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. In some cases, those infected will also have a skin rash on the body trunk and swollen lymph nodes. "The same symptoms also can indicate meningitis," Dr. Starke says. "In any case, a doctor needs to be seen right away."

Mild case symptoms of West Nile virus will last only a few days, although symptoms of West Nile encephalitis may persist for several weeks. "There is no cure for this mosquito-borne illness," Dr. Starke says. "Once a person is infected, it's important to get supportive care – fluids and prescription drugs such as anti-seizure medicine. Breathing assistance may also be warranted."

Preventing West Nile

In addition to arming youngsters with age-appropriate insect repellant, there are measures parents can take to prevent the West Nile virus from spreading.

"Keep children away from environments where mosquitoes are the most plentiful," Dr. Starke says. "Beware of standing water, even in areas you would not normally suspect – dog dishes, fountains, tires, swimming pools with untreated water and gutters with a build up of leaves – that attract mosquitoes. If you water your yard daily, the water left on the grass or accumulating at the curb can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes."

West Nile Virus Facts

  • The disease is carried by mosquitoes, not humans or birds.
  • Although West Nile virus infection is more common in adults, children also are at risk.
  • Mild cases of West Nile fever last several days, while severe cases (West Nile encephalitis) may persist for several weeks.
  • There is no cure, but supportive care is important. Fluids, anti-seizure medication and breathing assistance may be used.
  • West Nile encephalitis symptoms – Distinctly different from a normal childhood illness, symptoms can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, an altered mental state, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis. Some cases may have skin rash on the body trunk and swollen lymph nodes.

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