West Nile serious

Maryann Kopp

When Bakersfield College nursing student Tarah Jimenez had to keep an elderly patient stable, the last thing she expected was for the patient to pass away a week later as a result of contracting the West Nile Virus.
“The patient was admitted for high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and typical flu systems,” Jimenez began. “But it went from bad to worse, and then they started to have tremors and seizures. There, basically, was a slow decline from there, so we ran a bunch of tests and couldn’t figure out what it was.”
When the doctor tested for West Nile, most nurses were laughing it off, according to Jimenez, figuring that the patient had Parkinson’s or some seizure disorder. The test results that came back positive, however, seemed to prove the unthinkable to be true.
“Basically, West Nile Virus (WNV) is a seasonal epidemic,” BC nursing professor Ray Purcell explained. “Since it’s primarily transmitted by mosquito bite, it’s an infection primarily confined to the summer and fall months. The mosquitoes actually get the virus from infected birds which can directly transmit the virus to humans. In general, all residents in geographic areas of risk share the same probability of contracting the virus. However, persons over fifty seem to have the highest risk of experiencing severe symptoms.”
According to the Center for Disease Control Web site, www.cdc.gov, while most people (approximately 80 percent) will not even experience any symptoms, the other 20 percent will experience flu-like symptoms between three to 14 days. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, nausea, headache and swollen lymph glands. A much smaller population of the infected will experience much more severe symptoms.
“About one in 150 infected persons demonstrate severe illness, the worst being encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain which causes neurological symptoms like severe headache, neck stiffness, altered mental status, and possibly seizures,” cautions Purcell. “While there is no specific treatment for the viral infection, anyone demonstrating severe symptoms should be seen by a health care provider.”
Both Jimenez and Purcell both agree that the best way to avoid contracting WNV lies in basic prevention.
Insect repellents “containing an EPA-registered active ingredient” should be worn when outside, especially during dusk and dawn hours. In fact, avoiding going outside during those times, especially during the warmer weather when wearing long sleeve shirts and pants is not too practical, may be the best way to avoid being bit.Having good screens on windows can do a good deal in keeping mosquitoes out of the house.
Staying away from areas with still standing water, where mosquitoes breed, is also something to bear in mind while avoiding WNV. Keeping certain homes free of such hazards, including water in pots, barrels, buckets, bird baths, flower pots, children’s wading pools, and the like, can also aid in prevention.
People with lowered immunities may be at greater risk, Jimenez warns. “People with medical conditions such as diabetes or lupus may run a higher risk of suffering symptoms, and might want to be extra careful.”
“Where I realize that WNV is topical,” Purcell concludes. “What really worries me for college aged students is what causes most of their illness and deaths, which is violence and traumatic injury, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted disease.”