West Nile Virus Treatment

  • Treatment

    If you become ill with West Nile fever, treatment is seldom necessary. The only treatment currently available is supportive for the flu-like symptoms you may experience [Table 1].

    Many who become mildly ill with West Nile fever do not need to seek medical care and may not even know they were infected with West Nile virus. Supportive care may include relieving symptoms of fever and muscle aches with over-the-counter medicines, rest, and fluids.

    West Nile encephalitis can progress rapidly and may become life threatening. Any signs typical of encephalitis require immediate medical treatment [Table 2]. If West Nile virus (WNV) has been reported in your area, it's important to familiarize yourself with the signs of encephalitis.

    West Nile encephalitis may require hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids, help with breathing (ventilator), and supportive care to prevent secondary infections. There is currently no proven curative or specific therapy for West Nile encephalitis.

    Encephalitis-like symptoms [Table 2] can be caused by many things other than WNV. If you suspect that you or a family member may be showing signs of encephalitis, seek medical attention immediately.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    Plant-based insect repellents are less effective than products that contain DEET.

    Even pesticides that say they are made from all natural products can be toxic to people and animals. Always follow manufacturer's instructions on the label.

    Popularly advertised therapies have no proven effectiveness against mosquito bites.

    Devices claiming to repel insects with ultrasonic sound, and outdoor bug “zappers” have not been shown to be effective against mosquitoes. Research has also failed to show vitamin B supplements effective in preventing mosquito bites.

    If you plan to travel, check with the region's health department to determine the prevalence of mosquitoes and West Nile virus in the area.

    Mosquito activity usually ceases by the second frost in a particular region. Warmer climates have longer mosquito seasons.

    Older persons and those with weakened immune systems should be especially careful to avoid mosquito bites.

    Since West Nile is not the only encephalitis-causing virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes in the United States, it is important to know how to minimize your risk of mosquito bites. See Prevention section for more information.

    If you fear you may be ill with West Nile fever or encephalitis [Table 1] [Table 2], it is important to tell your doctor about any immunizations you have had in the past.

    Immunizations that prevent other similar illnesses, like Yellow Fever, may cause certain laboratory tests to be falsely positive to West Nile. To aid your doctor in properly diagnosing your illness, be sure you provide a complete vaccination history. This is especially important if you have ever traveled abroad or served in the military.

    Dogs and cats can become infected with West Nile virus (WNV), but they rarely become ill.

    There are only a few cases of WNV documented in dead cats worldwide. Blood tests done on dogs have shown that they are frequently infected with WNV, but observable illness is extremely rare. There is a possibility that cats and dogs may become infected from eating dead WNV carriers such as birds, but this has not been proven.

    Horses living in areas where West Nile virus has been reported should receive a vaccination specific to the West Nile virus.

    Vaccinations against other forms of encephalitis will not protect horses from West Nile. Horses should also be protected from mosquito bites as much as possible. About 40% of horses that develop West Nile encephalitis will die or have to be put down because of the illness.

    Most humans who become ill have West Nile fever, a mild illness that usually does not require medical treatment. West Nile fever is self-limiting, and individuals recover fully.

    Once a person contracts the West Nile virus, it is assumed that they develop a lifelong immunity. There is a possibility that this immunity may wane in later years.

    Outcomes for those who develop West Nile encephalitis can vary greatly, depending upon a person's age and general health.

    There is a risk of permanent disability or death if one develops West Nile encephalitis. Full recovery from West Nile encephalitis is possible, but can be slow. Lasting effects on the nervous system may include problems with motor skills and thought processes. The permanent effects may be mild or severe.

    West Nile fever often requires no treatment or medical follow-up.

    If your flu-like symptoms persist, or if you are otherwise concerned about your health, contact your physician.

    West Nile encephalitis usually requires hospitalization. Depending on the long-term damage done to the brain and nervous system, follow-up treatment may be required after the encephalitis has subsided.

    The rate and extent of recovery can vary widely. Physical therapy or hospitalization in a rehabilitational facility may be necessary.

Recommended Reading

Meet the Pharmacists

I'm Kristen Dore, PharmD. Welcome to PDR Health!

Check out my latest blog post on heartburn medication

West Nile Virus Related Drugs

    West Nile Virus Related Conditions