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Understanding West Nile Fever: A Mosquito-Borne Viral Infection

What is West Nile Fever?

West Nile fever is a viral infection caused by the West Nile virus (WNV), which is primarily transmitted through the bite of infected Culex mosquitoes. First detected in Uganda in 1937, this vector-borne disease has now spread globally, including in India, where it was first reported in Kerala in 2011.

How Does It Spread?

The primary mode of transmission is through mosquito bites. Culex mosquitoes become infected by feeding on infected birds, which are considered the natural hosts of the virus. Subsequently, these infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans and other animals through their bites.

In rare cases, the virus can also spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, or from mother to baby during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. However, human-to-human transmission is not common.

Symptoms and Severity

Most people infected with the West Nile virus do not exhibit any symptoms. However, approximately one in five individuals may develop fever, accompanied by symptoms like headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. These febrile illnesses typically resolve on their own, but fatigue and weakness can persist for weeks or months.

In severe cases, the virus can cause a potentially life-threatening neurological disease, leading to symptoms such as high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis. Severe illness can occur in people of any age, but the risk is higher for those over 60 years old or with underlying medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, or organ transplants.

Treatment and Prevention

Currently, there is no specific medication or vaccine available for the treatment of West Nile fever. Treatment is primarily supportive, involving measures like intravenous fluids, pain medication, and nursing care for severe cases requiring hospitalization.

Preventing mosquito bites is the most effective way to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Measures such as eliminating standing water sources, using mosquito repellents, and wearing protective clothing can help minimize exposure to infected mosquitoes.

Recent Outbreak in Kerala

Kerala’s health authorities have reported West Nile fever cases in three districts: Kozhikode, Malappuram, and Thrissur. In response, the state government has directed all districts to be vigilant and implement mosquito control measures, including pre-monsoon cleaning drives and surveillance activities.

The recent death of a 47-year-old man in Thrissur district, the first fatality in the state caused by West Nile fever in the last three years, has raised public awareness about this vector-borne disease.

By understanding the nature of the West Nile virus, its transmission, and preventive measures, individuals can take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families from this potentially severe viral infection.

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